Bitcatcha's content is reader-supported. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

VPN Kill Switch: What Is It and How Does It Work?

UPDATED
June 17, 2024

 

When we browse the internet, we’re often left vulnerable to security risks. It’s why a strong VPN is so helpful; letting you hide vital personal information like your true location and IP address.

 

Because of this, you might assume that running your connection through a safe, encrypted tunnel will always keep your online activity private. But as it happens, things are a little more complicated and a VPN connection can occasionally trip up.

 

Thankfully – there’s a little something called a VPN kill switch.

 

 

Here’s everything you need to know about VPN kill switches and why you need one.

 

What Exactly is a VPN Kill Switch?

 

Let’s say you’re browsing the internet, maybe paying bills or even just doing mundane tasks – Until suddenly, your VPN connection fails unexpectedly. Yikes.

 

This could obviously lead to some security issues – such as data leaks, or leaving you vulnerable to snoopers on public WiFi networks. But if you have a VPN kill switch then there’s nothing to worry about.

 

Why? Because a VPN kill switch will kick in to cut off the internet connection on your device, which automatically stops unsecured connections.

 

While it doesn’t sound like anything special, this important feature is extremely helpful to have. This feature prevents your sensitive information such as your IP address and geolocation from getting leaked until your VPN connection is restored.

 

internet disconnection by vpn kill switch

A VPN killswitch will disconnect you from the internet if your VPN connection fails.
(Credit: PopSci)

 

Generally, if a VPN kill switch is enabled, you won’t be able to connect to any service or website which requires you to have an internet connection. You’d first need to turn on your VPN protection to bypass this.

 

Most VPN service providers have this feature enabled by default. While this can get annoying at times, especially when you know the website you’re going to is safe, you can turn this off whenever you want. Alternatively, for a safer option, you can have this feature on while customizing which apps can operate without the VPN and which ones should never connect to the internet without a VPN.

 

If you’re looking for some form of protection for your online identity, then we strongly recommend that you first pay attention to whether your VPN service provider offers this feature. It’s also important to look at professional VPN reviews instead of just going with what everyone thinks.

 

 

How do VPN Kill Switches Work (and Are There Different Kinds)?

 

More than anything – a VPN kill switch’s main role is to protect you from any leaks of your sensitive information. It’s designed to actively monitor your connection to the VPN server and observe status changes such as when your connection would fail.

 

skyvpn kill switch

The VPN kill switch’s main role is to protect your sensitive information from getting leaked.
(Credit: SkyVPN)

 

If the kill switch detects that something in the connection has changed, it automatically blocks the internet connection on your device. This can be on specific apps or all of the apps if there weren’t any preset settings made.

 

With this, no unprotected data traffic will be transferred, and your real IP address and geolocation isn’t leaked.

 

Before your internet connection is restored, the kill switch needs to wait and confirm until your device has connected to a private network server.

 

There tends to be two types of VPN kill switches offered by VPN service providers.

 

1. System-level kills switches

 

When a malfunction occurs, such as when a connection becomes unsteady or drops, this type of kill switch stops the internet connection on the device entirely.

 

With this, all data traffic coming from your device will be halted to prevent any of your sensitive information from getting leaked. The internet connection will be off on the device until the VPN is restored.

 

2. Application-level kills switches

 

Application-level kill switches, as the name would suggest, only work on specific apps instead of the whole device.

 

The kill switch will close specific apps when a malfunction occurs and allows other apps to operate. This is the best option if you’re only concerned about your privacy when using specific apps.

 

 

When Are VPN Kill Switches Activated?

 

kill switches ensure protection

Kill switches help ensure you’re always protected

 

While VPN connection keeps you securely encrypted, they’re not completely immune to failure.

 

The following are the several reasons when VPN kill switches are activated:

 

  • Poor or unsteady internet connection
    Having a poor or unsteady internet connection will mean that you’ll run into VPN connectivity issues as well. To prevent your data from getting leaked unexpectedly, the kill switch will activate every time the VPN service disconnects.
  • Restarting the device and not turning the VPN protection on
    For times when your computer restarts unexpectedly, the VPN connection will be lost. Because tools such as the kill switch are set to launch during system startup, you need to enable it until you’re able to access the internet again.
  • Firewall or Antivirus interfering with VPN’s functionality
    There are times when the configurations of your device’s firewall or antivirus can interfere with your VPN. For example, they might be blocking ports that your VPN needs to use.
  • Switching between different VPN servers
    Switching to a different VPN server might cause the kill switch to temporarily disconnect your device.

 

 

Should I Use a VPN Kill Switch?

 

most vpn will offer kill switch feature

Most great VPNs (like ExpressVPN above) will offer a kill switch.

 

Well – there’s no doubt that the kill switch is a great feature. This gives you another level of security when it comes to protecting your identity and sensitive information.

 

With this, we also believe that there are no downsides to using it.

 

It’s your last line of defense when your VPN fails and it can guarantee that your actions online remain hidden.

 

However, despite there being no real downsides to this feature, it can be a usability hassle especially if you can’t access the internet unless the VPN is up.

 

If you’re an activist and you need to protect your identity, or even when you’re accessing sensitive information through a public wifi, then we highly recommend using a kill switch to stay safe.

 

 

Kill Switches: Now You Know!

 

Now that you know all about kill switches, you can keep yourself safe even if your VPN lapses. No more needing to worry about any of your sensitive information getting leaked!

 

 

VPN Guides and Best VPN Services

What is VPN and how does it protect you from online threats? Check out all curated resources below.