What Is Kill Switch in VPNs?

  • 10 mins read

A kill switch in VPN is a feature designed to ensure your privacy remains intact even if your connection drops unexpectedly. This ensures that your data remains secure and private, even in the event of a VPN failure. It’s essentially a fail-safe mechanism integrated into VPNs. It’s a critical feature offered by many top VPN providers. From household names like ExpressVPN and NordVPN to CyberGhost and Surfshark, these leading services are integrating kill switch functionality to bolster online security.

So what is kill switch in VPNs and how does it work exactly? Keep reading to find out.

Table of Contents

Understanding the Kill Switch Feature

Many VPN services call it an “advanced security feature,” and that makes it look like it’s something you have to pay extra for. Luckily, it’s included in most VPN providers’ packages at no additional cost.

Here’s how the feature works:

  1. Monitoring VPN Connection: When you activate the kill switch on your VPN client, it continuously monitors the status of your VPN connection.

  2. Detecting VPN Disconnection: If the kill switch detects that your VPN connection has dropped unexpectedly, it immediately springs into action.

  3. Automatic Internet Disconnection: Upon detecting a VPN disconnection, the kill switch swiftly and automatically severs your internet connection.

  4. Preventing Data Exposure: By disconnecting your internet, the kill switch prevents any data from being transmitted over an unsecured network, such as your ISP’s connection.

  5. Maintaining Privacy and Security: This proactive measure ensures that your online activities remain private and secure, even during temporary disruptions in VPN connectivity.

Step 1

The VPN monitors the status of your connection.

Step 2

The VPN detects a disruption in the connection.

Step 3

The VPN disconnects you from the Internet.

Step 4

Your data is prevented from being exposed on an unsecured network.

Step 5

By disconnecting you from the Internet, the VPN keeps your online activities private.

Still confused? Here’s an example to help you understand. Imagine you’re working remotely from a coffee shop, connected to your company’s network via a VPN to ensure secure access to sensitive files and resources. Suddenly, the Wi-Fi connection at the coffee shop becomes unstable, causing your VPN connection to drop unexpectedly.

🚫 Without the kill switch enabled:

Your device automatically reconnects to the public Wi-Fi network provided by the coffee shop.Your internet traffic, including any sensitive company data, is now transmitted over the unsecured public network.

This leaves your data vulnerable to interception by malicious actors lurking on the same network, potentially compromising your company’s security.

✅ With the kill switch enabled:

As soon as you’re disconnected from the VPN, the kill switch detects the disruption.

It promptly disconnects your device from the internet, preventing any data from being transmitted outside the secure VPN tunnel.

Even though the VPN connection is temporarily interrupted, your sensitive company data remains protected, ensuring that your company’s security protocols are upheld.

Types of Kill Switches

When it comes to kill switches in VPNs, there are primarily two types to consider.

Application-Based Kill Switch

The first type is the application level kill switch. This operates within the VPN client or application itself, offering a straightforward solution to monitor and manage the VPN connection. Once activated, this kill switch keeps an eye on the VPN connection status directly from the VPN software. If the connection drops unexpectedly, the kill switch within the application promptly terminates internet access to prevent any potential data leaks.

One of the advantages of this type of kill switch is its ease of use and configuration, typically accessible within the settings of the VPN application. It also provides users with granular control over which applications are affected by the kill switch.

However, it’s important to note that this type may only protect internet traffic originating from applications running on the device where the VPN client is installed and could be vulnerable to VPN client malfunctions or crashes.

System-Wide Kill Switch

Another type of kill switch is the system-wide kill switch. Unlike the application-based kill switch, this operates at the operating system (OS) level, providing broader protection beyond individual applications. The system-wide kill switch intercepts all internet traffic leaving the device, regardless of the source application.

If connection to the VPN server drops, it immediately blocks all outgoing internet traffic to prevent any potential data leaks. This type of kill switch offers comprehensive protection for all internet-connected applications and services on the device, working independently of specific VPN client applications, thus enhancing reliability. However, configuring and activating a system-wide kill switch may require administrative privileges and could potentially affect other network-dependent functionalities, such as local network access or file sharing.

ExpressVPN is a popular VPN app that has a system-wide kill switch.

express vpn kill switch

Benefits of Using a Kill Switch VPN

The biggest benefit is that your data won’t be exposed to potential threats even if your VPN connection unexpectedly drops. This means that sensitive information, such as personal data or confidential business documents, remains protected from prying eyes and potential breaches.

Plus, the kill switch ensures uninterrupted privacy and anonymity by promptly disconnecting the internet if the VPN connection is disrupted. Whether you’re conducting online banking transactions, accessing corporate networks, or simply browsing the web, you can trust that your sensitive activities and information are safeguarded at all times.

VPN connections can sometimes drop unexpectedly due to various reasons such as network instability, server issues, or software glitches. When this happens, your device may automatically revert to its default internet connection, potentially exposing your online activities and sensitive information. In the event of a VPN connection failure, there is a risk of IP leaks, where your real IP address is inadvertently exposed to websites and online services.

A kill switch helps mitigate this risk by instantly blocking internet traffic if the VPN connection is compromised, thereby maintaining your anonymity and privacy.

Privacy and anonymity are fundamental aspects of VPN usage. You rely on VPNs to encrypt your internet traffic and shield your online activities from prying eyes, such as ISPs, government surveillance, or malicious actors. A kill switch plays a crucial role in upholding these principles by providing an extra layer of protection against potential vulnerabilities in the VPN connection, ensuring that your data remains secure and confidential at all times.

Whether you’re using a VPN kill switch on Linux or Windows, the idea is the same: it’s there to keep your online activities private and secure by making sure your data doesn’t accidentally leak out if your VPN connection drops.

How Do You Use a Kill Switch?

While the concept remains consistent across different VPN services, every provider has its own way of implementing it. For example, ProtonVPN’s kill switch can be accessed straight from the main menu, right on the main screen of its desktop application and it’s free to use. It’s designed to be easily accessible, so you can toggle it on or off with just a quick click whenever you need that extra layer of security.

proton vpn kill switch

Here’s a general idea of how you can use a kill switch in a VPN:

  1. Open your VPN application.

  2. Navigate to the main menu or settings. This will vary depending on which VPN you’re using. Nord VPN’s kill switch, for example, is in the settings.

    nord vpn kill switch

  3. Look for the kill switch option.

  4. Toggle the kill switch on.

  5. You’re all set! Your internet connection is now protected, even if your VPN connection drops.

Limitations and Considerations

When you’re using a kill switch, it’s important to know its ins and outs to make the most of it without any surprises:

  • Potential Disruptions: Sometimes, using a kill switch might lead to brief interruptions in your internet access. If your VPN has a hiccup or the server needs maintenance, you might notice a temporary slowdown.

  • Selective Bypass: Your VPN might let you bypass the kill switch for certain apps or services. It’s handy, but be careful. If you’re not careful with the settings, you could accidentally expose some sensitive data.

  • Operating System Dependencies: If you’re using a system-wide kill switch, it might depend on how your operating system works. Updates or changes in your OS could affect how the kill switch behaves, so keep an eye out for any updates.

  • Impact on Connectivity: In rare cases, turning on the kill switch might mess with certain activities like online gaming or streaming. Just make sure you’re okay with the potential impact on your regular online routines before flipping the switch.

  • Alternative Safeguards: Remember, the kill switch isn’t the only way to keep your online activities safe. Things like DNS leak protection, split tunneling, or multi-hop VPN configurations can add extra layers of security. Think about combining these features with the kill switch for even better protection against potential threats.

Keep the Kill Switch On

Now that you’re familiar with what a kill switch is and how you can use it to protect your data, you’re better equipped to safeguard your online privacy and security with your VPN. Despite its limitations, the kill switch remains a valuable feature, offering peace of mind by ensuring your data stays secure, even if your VPN connection drops unexpectedly.

Remember, the kill switch is just one of many tools available to enhance your online security. Consider combining it with other features like DNS leak protection and multi-hop VPN configurations for comprehensive protection against potential threats.

With these considerations in mind, you can make informed decisions about how to best use the kill switch feature within your VPN service, ensuring that your online activities remain private and secure in an increasingly interconnected digital world.

Frequently Asked Questions

A kill switch provides an extra layer of protection against potential vulnerabilities in VPN connections. It helps maintain your privacy and anonymity by preventing your data from being exposed if the VPN connection fails.

When enabled, the kill switch monitors your VPN connection. If it detects that the VPN connection has dropped, it immediately blocks all internet traffic to prevent any data from leaking outside of the secure VPN tunnel.

Some VPN providers offer the option to bypass the kill switch for specific applications or services. This can be useful for tasks that require uninterrupted internet access, such as accessing local network resources. However, it’s essential to use this feature carefully to avoid exposing sensitive data.

While using a kill switch may lead to brief interruptions in internet access, particularly during VPN connection drops, it shouldn’t significantly impact your overall internet speed or connectivity. However, it’s essential to be aware of any potential disruptions and adjust your usage accordingly.

While a kill switch is an effective tool for maintaining privacy and security, there are other features and safeguards available in VPN software, such as DNS leak protection, split tunneling, IPv6 leak protection, and multi-hop VPN configurations. We suggest combining these features for complete protection against potential threats.

Not all VPN providers offer a kill switch feature specifically for Linux. However, many popular VPN services, such as NordVPN and ExpressVPN, do provide Linux-compatible applications with kill switch functionality. Make sure you check the features and compatibility of a VPN service before subscribing if you require a kill switch on Linux.