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What is a VPN kill switch and how does it work?


A VPN kill switch is a feature that automatically disconnects your computer, phone, or tablet from the internet if your VPN connection drops out. This means there’s no chance that your IP address and other sensitive information could be exposed if your VPN stops working. So the security and anonymity of your internet connection won’t be compromised.

VPNs often have the kill switch feature activated by default, but you can choose to deactivate it if you want. If you switch it off, you can continue using the internet as normal, even if your VPN isn’t connected. But if you switch it on, you can’t send any data via your internet connection if your VPN is disconnected.

For those who want to make full use of a VPN service, a kill switch is crucial for all-round security. However, not every VPN on the market offers this feature or includes one that isn’t reliable. One of the best VPNs that provides a great kill switch is NordVPN. In fact, it offers two types of a kill switch – for specific apps and for the entire system. So whatever you’re doing online, with NordVPN, no prying eyes can take a peek.

Best VPN with a kill switch feature
NordVPN is one of the best VPNs on the market. On top of a reliable kill switch for both specific apps and the entire system, it offers top-notch protection and high speeds.
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4.9 /5

How does a VPN kill switch work?

A VPN kill switch works by constantly monitoring your connection, detecting issues, blocking your access to the internet, and restoring your connection as soon as it’s safe.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown on how VPN kill switches work:

  1. Monitoring: A VPN kill switch continuously monitors your connection to your VPN server by scanning for changes in status or IP address.
  2. Detecting: The VPN kill switch will then instantly detect any changes that could prevent your VPN from working properly.
  3. Blocking: Depending on what type of VPN you’re using (more on that a bit further down), your VPN kill switch will either block certain apps or your entire device from accessing the internet.
  4. Restoring: As soon as the issue is resolved, your VPN kill switch will restore your internet connection without you having to do anything.

It's worth noting that while some VPNs include a kill switch, the feature might not always be good or work as it's supposed to. That's why it's important to find VPNs with a kill switch feature that do the job well.

When does a VPN kill switch activate?

A VPN kill switch will kick in as soon as it detects that your VPN connection has gone down.

Here are a few examples of when this might happen:

  • If your internet is disconnected from your VPN server because it’s struggling with connectivity issues.
  • If you decide to switch VPN servers.
  • If you experience unreliable network connections, such as using public Wi-Fi.
  • If your computer does an update overnight and then reconnects to the internet without opening your VPN.
  • If you start using a new firewall and forget to add an exception for your VPN, meaning that the firewall then blocks your VPN.
  • If someone borrows your device and they restart it without switching your VPN back on.

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Types of VPN kill switches

There are two different types of VPN kill switches: system level VPN kill switch and application level VPN kill switch

1. System level VPN kill switch

A system-level VPN kill switch notes when you’re disconnected from the VPN service. It then sends that information to your device to prevent it from connecting to the internet via your wifi or mobile data.

automatic kill switch screenshot

When it’s enabled, a system level VPN kill switch completely blocks your internet connection to your computer until the VPN connection is restored or by resetting the network adapter. This makes it very effective at avoiding IP leaks.

It’s really easy to set up an active VPN kill switch. If it’s not already switched on by default, all you’ll probably need to do is select a checkbox on your VPN.

2. Application level VPN kill switch

An application-level kill switch protocol may not sound as safe as a system level kill switch, but it’s arguably the better option of the two as it’s limited to the applications you choose.

It works by letting you choose the specific apps you want to stop from connecting to the internet when the kill switch activates. Whichever apps you’ve selected will then stop working in the event of a VPN connection failure to protect your data. This is very handy if you want to hide your IP address while using certain apps.

It’s more flexible than the active VPN kill switch because it gives you more control over how the switch operates.

The most common apps for an application level VPN kill switch include:

  • Browsers, such as Chrome or Firefox
  • Email apps, such as Gmail and Outlook
  • Video calling apps, such as Skype and WhatsApp
  • Torrent client, such as uTorrent and Vuze

Why should you use a VPN kill switch?

Even the most reliable VPNs experience occasional drops in connectivity. And if you’re relying on a VPN to keep your sensitive information secure, you’ll likely want an extra safety measure to protect your data in case your VPN fails. This will guarantee that you’ll get the level of security and privacy you want at all times.

Pro tip

A VPN kill switch is your last line of defense to make sure that your IP address is never uncovered. It also makes sure no one can access your unencrypted data if your VPN goes down.

Try NordVPN

Who should use a VPN kill switch?

While an occasional drop in connectivity of your VPN may not be the end of the world for most people, there are certain groups of people who need this level of privacy at all times. And those who definitely need to use a VPN kill switch include:

  • Activists and journalists who don’t want to be tracked down.
  • Users of peer-to-peer transfer software who need to mask their IP addresses.
  • Anyone holding confidential documents who can’t afford to have their security compromised, such as lawyers or social workers handling incredibly sensitive data.
  • Torrent users who wish to remain anonymous.

Risks of using a VPN without a kill switch

Using a VPN is a great way to keep your online activity private and secure. But VPNs aren’t foolproof. As we've discussed earlier, there are times when your VPN connection might drop, which will leave your IP address and sensitive data exposed.

Here are some of the biggest risks of using a VPN without a kill switch:

  • It leaves you vulnerable if your VPN connection drops, meaning that your ISP (and thus the government in some cases) can see what you’re up to online or access your IP address until your VPN is back up and running.
  • Using free Wi-Fi can be dangerous, as it’s often not secure. Wi-Fi hotspots and public connections at cafes, hotels and train stations are easy targets for hackers. And if your VPN drops while you’re connected to an unsecured network, your data will be particularly vulnerable.
  • Your public IP address would give your location away, so it can be used to pinpoint where you are. This is more of a problem if you’re an activist, journalist or blogger. By not using a VPN kill switch, your location could be traced if your VPN connection drops.
  • Your online activity could become traceable, meaning that advertisers and businesses can use your IP address to develop a profile on you. If your VPN cuts out and you don’t have a kill switch enabled, third parties can start to build up information on you.

How to choose the right kill switch VPN?

While loads of VPNs offer a kill switch feature as part of their service, having one doesn’t do much good if the quality of the VPN is bad. After all, you don’t want your data to be leaked because of a faulty service that you actually paid money for.

So, when looking for the right VPN provider, here are a few things to consider:

  • Reliable and customizable kill switch
  • No visible impact on device performance
  • Top-quality security features
  • Audited no-logs policy
  • Compatibility with major operating systems

And to make it easier for you, we made a list of the best VPN service providers on the market:

  • NordVPN – best VPN with specific app and system-wide kill switch
  • Surfshark – affordable and speedy VPN with a kill switch
  • IPVanish – best VPN with a customizable kill switch

Thinking of trying out a VPN service? Read one of our VPN guides or reviews

Conclusion

A VPN kill switch automatically cuts your connection from the Internet if your VPN connection suddenly drops out. The feature is an extra security layer, protecting your data and keeping you anonymous even if the VPN turns off.

Once you turn the kill switch on, it monitors your VPN connection at all times, detecting any changes that could affect it. It then blocks specific apps or the whole system from accessing the Internet and restores the connection once the VPN is back up and running.

If you care about your privacy online, you’ll need a VPN that can ensure all-round and top-notch security. So choosing one that has a reliable kill switch included is crucial as it’s the last resort that keeps your IP address and unencrypted data out of sight for prying eyes. NordVPN is an ideal choice for this.

FAQ

Here, we’ll answer all your burning questions about VPN kill switches.

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