People use VPNs for different purposes but what they mostly share in common is the reason behind doing so – the protection of data and privacy. However, even the most reliable and trusted VPN services can have their bad days; occasional disruptions or even server malfunctions.
For whatever the cause, once the secure connection with a VPN server malfunctions, even five minutes is enough to leak your identity or other information out.
What is a VPN Kill Switch?
In standard Information Technology (IT) terminology, a Kill Switch is a special mechanism that automatically disconnects your device from the Internet or closes a list of applications, whenever it detects any disruptions or failure in connection.
They work exactly the same way when taken in context of a VPN service. If the VPN application detects any service disruption with its server, it will immediately shut down all internet communications that are routed through it.
Why Need a VPN Kill Switch?
Most people use a VPN to protect their privacy and data. For some reason, if your VPN were to temporarily malfunction, you would be rendered vulnerable and unprotected. This is where the Kill Switch comes in. The Kill Switch will automatically terminate your connection to the Internet upon detecting anything unusual.
It is designed to prevent your IP, location and online activities from any accidental exposure at all times. If you do not have this feature and the Internet connection drops, you may not be aware and still think you are under the VPN’s protection. This then gives you a false sense of security which is downright dangerous.
Once the Kill Switch is activated, you won’t be able to browse, stream, or download anything. Since your entire Internet connection is shut down, your real IP remains protected, your privacy stays intact and the security of the connection will not be compromised.
This can be especially important for those who do frequent torrenting. If the VPN disconnects even for a short while, your online actions would be exposed and the ISP will be able to spot you, leading to possible sped throttling or even litigation.
Important note: Not all VPNs come with a Kil Switch feature. Make sure the one you sign up with does to improve your security.
How Does a VPN Kill Switch Work?
A Kill Switch works much akin to a tripwire. It constantly monitors your Internet connection, looking for any changes in IPs or statuses. If it detects anything unusual, such as a dropped connection, the Kill Switch will instantly terminate the connection or a list of pre-selected apps.
The VPN Kill Switch activates when:
- An unexpected VPN disconnection occurs.
- You switch between servers, without disconnecting from the first server you’re connected to.
- Experiencing intermittent connection disruptions.
Take note that a VPN Kill Switch is not a core VPN component but typically a feature which you need to enable.
Types of VPN Kill Switches
1. Internet Kill Switch or System-Level Kill Switch
This type of Kill Switch targets the Internet connection. Upon any VPN connection disruption or failure, it automatically shuts down your network activity. The internet traffic is disabled until the VPN server re-establishes its connection.
This is a better option as it disconnects you entirely from the Internet preventing your information from being exposed.
2. Application Kill Switch
This type of Kill Switch targets a list of Applications, which you need to have defined beforehand, that needs to be closed as soon as your VPN connection fails. The common ones would be torrent clients, email Apps and streaming Apps.
Take note that having this type of Kill Switch might restrict your App from updating to newer versions.
Why Would VPN Connections Drop?
VPNs are typically very reliable. However, server connections can experience problems every now and then, which causes them to drop. Some possible causes can include:
Bad Internet Connection/Network Congestion
If you’re working with an unstable Internet connection, chances are, your VPN might falter. If the Wi-Fi network you’re using has a weak signal, this could cause the connection to drop due to excess data loss.
Your WiFi connection’s strength may affect your VPN connection’s reliability. Even switching constantly between networks can have a similar effect. Heavy use of the Internet connection, such as in airports and coffee shops, can cause a VPN connection to become unstable too.
Problems With the VPN Server
Disruptions in the physical server or simple timeouts in the connection, including the server being overloaded due to being used by many people at the same time, all can cause the VPN connection to potentially fail.
Firewall, Antivirus or Router Settings
Certain programs have certain settings that when activated, won’t allow your VPN to set up a connection. A firewall or antivirus program could see the VPN’s connection as a risk, thus stopping the VPN from running. Even your router and your device’s automatic updates could cause similar issues.
Are There Free VPNs with the Kill Switch Feature?
Although there are not many free VPN services that offer Kill Switch features, there are a few that do. Since free VPN services usually come with limited features, many don’t trust a free VPN service to work flawlessly with the Kill Switch feature.
Not all VPNs Are Created Equal
When a VPN connection drops, which will happen somehow or other, IPs will be exposed and you will be left unprotected. A good VPN needs to be reliable.
Because of this, most reputable VPN providers incorporate a Kill Switch to better protect their users. A Kill Switch is an integral feature when selecting a VPN. It provides a safety net for those times when you might not even realize you need one.