What is a VPN Kill Switch and why you need to use this feature?

what is a kill switch for vpn

By opting for a VPN, Internet users choose anonymous and secure browsing. However, Internet connection instabilities can overcome VPN protection and expose users’ private data without them realizing it.

It is where the VPN kill switch comes in, an option that is now indispensable for guaranteeing the security and integrity of personal, sensitive, and confidential information when browsing the Internet using a Virtual Private Network.

If you already own a subscription to a VPN service, you have probably already taken a look at the options available or browsed through its features. You have therefore surely already come across the activation of a certain VPN Kill Switch feature without really knowing what this option technically means. 

You should know that this is probably the most important option when using a VPN service, a true safety valve that ensures your inviolable confidentiality on the Internet, especially in the event of a problem with your VPN connection.

What is a VPN kill switch feature?

A VPN Kill Switch consists of an automatic circuit breaker that disconnects the internet connection from your computer, your phone, or tablet if your VPN connection is interrupted for any reason. 

In this way, you are assured that your IP address and all other connection information remain protected if your VPN loses the connection with the remote VPN server you are connected to. This is to effectively maintain your security and anonymity on the internet.

Although most VPN services on the market offer a Kill Switch function activated by default, it is quite possible to deactivate it, even if we do not recommend doing so. Of course, you can continue to surf the Internet normally in this case, but personal data could be at risk of leaking during the network switch and make you potentially traceable.

vpn kill switches explained
Source AVG

How does the VPN Kill Switch feature works?

The general principle of VPN Kill Switch is very straightforward. It is an emergency stop button. Its activation leads to the pure and simple cutting off the Internet connection on the device used. 

To be triggered only when necessary, the Kill Switch monitors the IP address associated with the VPN at all times. The VPN hides the user’s real IP address by connecting to a remote VPN server. If the IP address used by the VPN changes at any time, the VPN Kill Switch considers the Internet connection to be no longer secure and terminates it.

The Kill Switch protects Internet users during their Internet browsing.

After the Internet is disabled, the VPN connection remains interrupted until the VPN manages to restart properly. In this case, the Internet connection is automatically restored. The Kill Switch then resumes its normal monitoring task.

The Kill Switch-induced connection may come as a surprise, but it assures the Internet user that his data is never exposed. It is possible to manually restart the Internet connection if the VPN does not work. Simply disable the VPN to access the Internet again. By doing so, the Internet is accessible, but the VPN connection is not secure.

A VPN Kill Switch works like this:

  1. It monitors the IP address used and the security of the network;
  2. If the IP address changes and the access is not secure, the Kill Switch considers the security to be compromised;
  3. As soon as the security is compromised, the internet connection is switched-off and the VPN connection drops;
  4. The internet connection is restored as soon as the VPN is working normally again.
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Why is the VPN kill switch essential when using a VPN?

The VPN Kill Switch is the ultimate protection against the traceability of your VPN connection, the primary role of a VPN. Be aware that even the most reliable VPNs experience occasional drops in connectivity. 

If you’re using a VPN to secure your sensitive information, chances are that extra security measure is non-negotiable. It is particularly recommended in certain cases or certain professional and personal activities, from anonymous torrent sharing to political activism on the Internet.

Using a VPN is the first step, the Kill Switch completes your protection and helps in:

  • Making your public IP address completely invisible even in the event of a problem with the VPN
  • Hiding your location on apps or programs using location tools
  • Hiding your activity on the Internet
  • Protecting your anonymity when using public Wi-Fi

Closely monitored online activities

Traditionally, when surfing the web, the connection leaves the computer or mobile device, passes through the ISP’s servers, queries the servers of the called domain, and returns the answer by taking the reverse path.

In this configuration, several entities access different data and metadata to identify the Internet user and track his online activities.

The first entity is the Internet Service Provider, which is responsible for assigning an IP address to the device that connects to the Internet.

This identification number is used both to establish communication between two computers (in this case, the PC or mobile device from which the request originates and the servers of the contacted website) and to link the connection to a subscriber contract. 

The ISP is also able to monitor the Internet traffic passing through its servers. Although it cannot access the content of the request as such, it records the connection times, determines the addresses of the web pages consulted, takes note of the geolocation data, and knows what type of device is used to surf.

How to activate kill switch mode on your VPN?

As stated above, if some VPN services do not offer this option, it is because it is either activated as standard or simply non-existent. 

Needless to say, we do not recommend VPNs in the latter case, which are often free VPN services and therefore unreliable services.

A VPN Kill Switch is not always optional!

Some VPNs include the automatic Kill Switch in the active services, without the possibility to disable it. It is for example the case of CyberGhost VPN or ExpressVPN. 

Before subscribing to a service, you should therefore pay attention to the presence and functioning of this emergency safety function.

How to enable the kill switch on NordVPN?

Take for example the case of NordVPN. The Kill Switch option is not activated by default and requires going through the dedicated menu in the VPN options. On the desktop version, this is what it looks like after validating the alert message.

NordVPN also allows you to activate the Internet Kill Switch only on specific applications such as your internet browser or other programs using your VPN connection on your machine.

How to enable the kill switch on Surfshark VPN?

Now consider another service like Surfshark. The VPN Kill Switch option is not found in the advanced settings this time around, nor in a dedicated menu, but in the Settings > Connectivity tab.

Note however that there are sometimes differences between the mobile and desktop versions of some VPNs, when the Kill Switch mode is present on the Desktop version, this is not necessarily the case on the Mobile version and vice versa. So be sure to find out about the service you want to use to find out if support for this mode is present.

expressvpn network lock
ExpressVPN Kill Switch is called Network Lock

How do you know if the kill switch is working on your VPN?

Whichever compatible VPN you have or which you choose, you have the means to test yourself if it works correctly. Here are the steps to follow:

  1. Launch the VPN and connect to a VPN server.
  2. Browse a site using your bandwidth like an SVoD service (Netflix, Prime Video, etc.) or use Torrent file-sharing software.
  3. Block the VPN app using your firewall, but don’t stop your online activity.
  4. If your internet cuts out, the VPN Kill Switch works perfectly, otherwise, your VPN service may be considered unreliable.
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What are the causes of VPN connection drops?

VPNs have become very reliable, and malfunctions are rare. There is little chance of the VPN Kill Switch being triggered regularly if the VPN connection fails. However, if it does trigger, you need to be able to identify the cause of the VPN failure to fix it as soon as possible. There are a few common reasons why the VPN may be malfunctioning:

  • Conflict with security software: firewall or antivirus settings can interfere with VPN operation. To make sure this does not happen, you should add your VPN in the exception list of your firewall or router settings;
  • Poor quality of the network connection: if the network used to access the Internet with your VPN is too weak or does not provide a stable connection, it can directly impact the operation of the VPN which must connect to a remote VPN server. It is then necessary to ensure the quality of its Wi-Fi connection, or opt for an Ethernet cable connection when possible;
  • VPN protocol selected: there are several VPN protocols, and some are more stable than others. Generally, it is recommended to choose the TCP protocol for maximum stability. If the other solutions to solve the problems did not work, you should try to change the protocol.

Which VPN service offer Kill Switch?

A very large proportion of VPNs today offer the VPN Kill Switch option. However, this option can have other names. Some VPN companies offer what is called a passive kill switch protocol whereas others offer an active kill switch protocol.

For example, ExpressVPN talks about Network Lock for its security system. It is a passive kill switch feature as you do not have any settings available. It is therefore necessary to look at all the services included in the VPN to make sure that this important option is present.

Here is a list, not exhaustive, of VPNs that offer a reliable internet Kill Switch option:

  • NordVPN allows you to choose between a total or partial (limited to applications of your choice) connection shutdown;
  • Surfshark shuts down all internet connections if the VPN Kill Switch feature is enabled;
  • ExpressVPN calls its emergency shutdown feature Network Lock.
  • PureVPN, which also offers an ad blocker and antivirus;
  • CyberGhost VPN, which has an emergency stop button that is always on;
  • VyprVPN offers a Kill Switch that can include local network access;
  • MullvadVPN includes an always-on kill switch feature;

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