You've probably seen the term "VPN Kill Switch" thrown around online. You especially see it when VPN providers try to promote their services on review sites, landing pages, and social media.
But what exactly is a Kill Switch? It sounds fancy, sure, but does it do anything in particular that offers you a better and safer online experience?
Well, this article will teach you everything you need to know about this topic.
What Is a VPN Kill Switch & How Does It Work?
It's a feature that shuts down your Internet connection the moment your VPN connection goes down. Sounds extreme, yes, but it's a handy way of protecting your privacy against potential disconnections (which can happen even if the VPN is very reliable).
A Kill Switch works like a firewall. It will monitor your VPN connection 24/7. If it notices a disconnect, it will block your device (or specific apps) from connecting to the Internet until the VPN connection is up and running again.
Keep in mind that a VPN Kill Switch is also called an Internet Kill Switch or a Network Lock.
The Two Types of Kill Switches
A VPN can have two kinds of Kill Switches:
- System-Level Kill Switch - This is the "standard" Kill Switch. So it kills your Internet connection completely when the VPN connection goes down.
- Application-Level Kill Switch - This type of Kill Switch lets you choose which apps won't be able to access the web if the VPN goes down (like a torrent client, for example). For security reasons, we recommend not adding your antivirus program to the app-level Kill Switch since it can prevent it from updating correctly.
Some services might only use one type, while others can give you access to both of them.
Why Do VPN Connections Go Down?
You don't need a Kill Switch if you use a VPN with reliable connections, right?
Not really. A VPN can offer the most stable connections, but things can still go wrong sometimes. Here are the main reasons why:
- You're using WiFi, and the signal is too low. Instead of your entire Internet connection going down, your VPN connection disconnects due to data packet loss.
- Your antivirus and/or firewall interferes with the VPN connection and causes it to crash.
- You're using the UDP protocol instead of TCP. UDP is less stable and more likely to crash your VPN connection.
- The VPN client is encountering errors that cause the connection to be discontinued (tends to happen with outdated clients). Alternatively, the VPN server is having problems or undergoes maintenance, and the connection drops.
- The network port you're using is having problems that cause the connection to drop.
- You're using a VPN server that's too far away (like on another continent).
- Your ISP is interfering with the VPN connection (they throttle it, for instance).
If you're dealing with constant disconnections, try our troubleshooting tips.
Why Should You Use a Kill Switch?
Because your VPN connection can go down, obviously. But what are the specific benefits you get by using a VPN Kill Switch?
Well, there are some pretty good reasons to use it:
1. Stay Safe When Torrenting
Well, if your VPN connection suddenly goes down, you'll be left exposed in the Swarm. Other seeders/leechers (some of which might be undercover copyright trolls and lawyers) will see your real IP address.
Also, the VPN encryption that protects your traffic will be gone. So, your ISP might be able to catch you in the act if they pay close attention to torrent traffic patterns (like simultaneous upload streams and multiple different TCP connections).
A VPN Kill Switch keeps you safe from that exposure by shutting down your web access or the torrent client.
DISCLAIMER: TechNadu doesn't condone or encourage illegal copyright infringement. However, we acknowledge how useful file-sharing is for many people around the world, and know we can't ignore this topic.
2. Protect Yourself From Traffic Leaks
A traffic leak happens when the VPN connection goes down. We call it that because your data leaks out of the VPN tunnel.
You don't need us to tell you why that's bad. But we'll do it anyway. It means your ISP can start monitoring your traffic, websites can see your real IP address, and advertisers can have a field day tracking your digital footprints.
With a Kill Switch, traffic leaks are no longer a problem since you don't use the web while the VPN tunnel doesn't protect your privacy.
3. Don't Blow Your Cover
Let's say you're:
- A whistleblower who is about to reveal top-secret documents (like Edward Snowden did).
- Political dissident planning on escaping a totalitarian regime or sharing sensitive information about it with other countries.
- A journalist who is about to blow the lid on a huge scandal.
- An undercover agent who needs to share essential discoveries with his/her superiors.
In such a situation, a VPN disconnecting for even a few seconds can cost you dearly. You can lose your job, your freedom, or even your life. What's more, you might put your sources at risk of being discovered too.
A Kill Switch will offer you the extra security layer you need to keep anyone from finding out what you're up to.
4. Keep Your Competitor Analysis a Secret
Checking out your competitors' websites when you launch or revamp your own is a standard practice in market research. And you normally want to use a VPN to make sure they can't catch on to what you're doing by seeing your real IP address.
But if the connection goes down while you're on their website, they'll see it. And they can track it to your website, and start stealing your ideas (keywords, product features, website copy, and design, etc.).
Well, a VPN Kill Switch keeps all your tactics safe by taking you offline when the VPN disconnects.
How to Make Sure the Kill Switch Is Running
It's pretty obvious. Turn on the VPN with the Kill Switch enabled, connect to a website, and disconnect from the VPN server (but don't turn off the VPN client). If the browser shuts down, the Kill Switch is working.
If you want a more "serious" method of testing the Kill Switch, do this:
- Download and install Wireshark (it's a network protocol analyzer). Don't worry - it's free.
- Start Wireshark, choose the network adapter you want to monitor and start the VPN too.
- Enable the Kill Switch option, connect to a server, and then access a website. Use the ping command on the website's domain to get its IP address. Write it down or take a screenshot - you'll need it.
- Now, while you're using the website, disconnect from the VPN server (again, don't shut down the client). That should shut down your browser, tab, or session.
- Next, check Wireshark. See if any connections were established to the website's IP address after you disconnected from the VPN server.
- If there are none, the VPN Kill Switch is working well.
Which VPN Providers Offer Kill Switches?
Not all VPN providers offer a Kill Switch, but there are a lot of decent ones that do. Here's a list of them, plus information about the platforms they offer the feature on:
- ExpressVPN - Available in most apps (Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and routers).
- NordVPN - Their Kill Switch works on Windows, Android, and iOS.
- CyberGhost - Apparently, all their servers have a Kill Switch that's automatically enabled. It's a bit more extreme than other providers since you can't disable it.
- PIA - Enabling and disabling the Kill Switch is easily done on all their apps (Windows, Linux, macOS, iOS, and Android).
- ProtonVPN - They have a Kill Switch in their Windows, macOS, and Linux apps.
- VyprVPN - Their macOS and Windows clients have a Kill Switch.
- Surfshark - They offer a Kill Switch in their Windows, macOS, and iOS clients.
- Mullvad VPN - The clients have a built-in Kill Switch on their Windows, Linux, and macOS apps.
- Ivacy - They offer a Kill Switch for Windows and Android users.
- ibVPN - You can use a Kill Switch with their Windows and macOS clients.
- PureVPN - You get this feature on Windows, Android, Linux, and macOS.
- PrivateVPN - Their Windows client has a Kill Switch.
- IPVanish - You get a Kill Switch on macOS, Android, and Windows.
- CactusVPN - They offer a Kill Switch on the macOS and Windows clients.
- Windscribe - They have a Kill Switch built into their Windows and macOS apps.
- SaferVPN - The Kill Switch works on their Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android clients.
- TunnelBear - Their Kill Switch is called VigilantBear, and it's available on Windows, macOS, and Android.
Are There Any VPN Kill Switch Alternatives?
Yes, there are a few options. For starters, if you use Windows, you can try the built-in Task Scheduler. With it, you can create a new task that will terminate a specific app when your OS detects that your VPN connection goes down.
If you want a third-party solution, there are some options too:
- VPN Watcher - A lightweight application for Windows and macOS. However, it's not free, as it costs $9.95 right now.
- VPNetMon - A pretty easy-to-use Windows program that's also free. Unfortunately, it's hard to say how reliable the tool is since the original web page for it now redirects to an error page.
- VPNCheck - A user-friendly Windows application. It gets the job done, but the free plan only works with PPTP connections. You'll need the paid plan to get OpenVPN support.
- VPN Lifeguard - A straightforward free and open-source application that runs on Windows.
PLEASE NOTE - Many of the tools in that list are pretty old and don't seem to receive updates anymore. We're only speculating here, but the lack of recent reviews and the original unsecured HTTP download links for some shouldn't be ignored. If you still want to use them, make sure you have antivirus software installed before downloading anything. Better to be safe than sorry.
You can also create your own Kill Switch with a firewall (like Comodo Firewall). However, setting that up isn't easy at all. To get an idea of what you need to do, check out this guide from LiquidVPN. We'd still recommend using a VPN with a built-in Kill Switch since it's safer and less of a hassle.
A VPN Kill Switch is a must-have if you really value your privacy, as it shuts off your web access if the VPN connection goes down (which can happen even if you use the most reliable service).
While there are ways to make your own Kill Switch, it's best just to use a VPN that has such a feature. It saves you a lot of time and effort.
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