A kill switch protects your personal data by disconnecting your device from the internet if your VPN connection drops. This is vital in maintaining online privacy and security, preventing risks such as exposure of personal data, potential identity theft, and financial loss.
A VPN kill switch continuously monitors your connection. If it detects disruption, it blocks your device’s internet connection to prevent your data from leaking.
NordVPN is renowned for its robust kill switch feature. It offers both system-level and app-level kill switches, providing users with flexibility and comprehensive protection, making it a top choice for those serious about online security.
When your VPN server’s connection is interrupted, your data is no longer encrypted. This means you can now be tracked online, endangering your anonymity. Thankfully, a kill switch prevents this by disconnecting your device from the internet if your VPN connection fails.
This article examines what a VPN kill switch is, how it works, and how to set it up. We also look at the different types of kill switches.
In general, we recommend getting a VPN that has a system-level kill switch and a permanent kill switch. NordVPN offers both, ensuring that your data is never leaked in the event of a malfunction.
Why is a Kill Switch Important?
Most people who use a virtual private network (VPN) do so to protect their privacy. VPNs encrypt your internet traffic, helping you stay anonymous while browsing the internet. This software prevents you from being tracked or monitored online.
However, VPN connections can falter for many reasons, as can any other type of connection. When this happens, a user’s internet activity and personal information, such as their IP address, will be visible to the outside world.
Luckily, most VPNs have a kill switch feature. A kill switch cuts off your device’s internet access if your VPN connection ever falters. This prevents any accidental data leaks if your VPN connection is disrupted. It also ensures that your device doesn’t reconnect to the internet until a secure VPN connection has been established.
Using a VPN kill switch is particularly important as drops in server connectivity can be unnoticeable. As a result, you could be using the internet without VPN protection and not even know about it.
How Does a Kill Switch Work?
The process behind a kill can be broken down into the following three steps:
- Monitoring and detection: A VPN kill switch continuously monitors your internet and looks for changes in connection status that could prevent the VPN from working properly.
- Blocking: Once the VPN detects a potentially disruptive change, it blocks your device’s internet connection to prevent an accidental data leak.
- Reconnecting: The kill switch continues monitoring to determine if the issue disrupting the VPN has been resolved and then automatically re-establishes the internet connection.
While the process may sound simple, not all VPN services provide a reliable VPN kill switch. However, most of our top-ranked VPNs, including NordVPN, feature robust kill switches that ensure your information remains protected at all times.
Types of Kill Switches in Use Today
VPN services now provide different kill switches to aid flexibility and choice. They can be differentiated based on whether they cut off the entire system’s internet connection or only disconnect certain apps.
Another way to classify kill switches is based on their persistence, i.e. whether they continue to operate even when the system is restarted or shut down.
1. App-level kill switch
While using an app-level kill switch, only selected apps are disconnected from the internet when the VPN is disrupted. Other apps and software on the device remain unaffected.
App-level kill switches are handy when working across different applications, only some of which require a VPN connection. For instance, you may only require a VPN connection to access the dark web via the Tor browser but not for other applications running on your device at the time.
They also help ensure that critical functions that require continuous internet access, such as system updates, are not disrupted.
2. System-level kill switch
System-level kill switches disconnect all applications and software on your device from the internet. As a result, they’re more secure than app-level kill switches, as there are fewer chances of data leaks if the VPN connection falters.
It’s best to use system-wide kill switches when privacy and anonymity are critical. For instance, you should use a system-level kill switch when accessing the internet in a country with heavy surveillance and censorship, like China or Iran.
3. Permanent kill switch
A permanent kill switch only lets you connect to the internet when you are connected to a VPN server. This kill switch works even if you manually disconnect from the VPN server. As the name suggests, a permanent kill switch prevents your device from connecting to the internet, even if you restart it or shut it down.
It’s advisable to use a permanent kill switch when you need persistent and continuous encryption and protection when using the internet. When encryption is required only intermittently, such as when connecting to public Wi-Fi, a temporary or regular kill switch may be more useful.
4. Temporary or regular kill switch
A regular kill switch disrupts your internet if the VPN connection falters. However, it does not persist if you manually disconnect from the VPN server. Additionally, a regular kill switch does not block your internet when you restart or shut down your device.
As such, we don’t recommend this kill switch for users who need consistent encryption.
Why Do VPN Connections Falter?
A dropped VPN connection can have multiple causes. Here are some of the most frequent ones:
- Unstable internet connection: If you’re working with an intermittent internet connection, such as a Wi-Fi network with a weak signal, it’s likely your VPN will falter.
- Constant switching between networks: Repeatedly changing between Wi-Fi or cellular networks, like 4G and 5G, also causes VPN connections to falter and drop.
- Changing VPN protocols: VPN providers use different protocols, such as OpenVPN and IKEv2, to encrypt your internet traffic. Switching between these encryption protocols may disrupt your connection to the VPN server.
- Firewall and antivirus settings: Firewalls and antivirus scanners also scan your network to prevent you from downloading malicious items. They can conflict with and disrupt your VPN connection. Adding the VPN as an exception to the firewall or antivirus scanner should help resolve the problem in most cases.
How to Use a VPN Kill Switch
The steps involved in enabling a VPN’s kill switch vary between service providers and depend on your device. However, the following steps should work for most VPN providers. We used NordVPN for this guide.
- Subscribe to and download a VPN client of your choice. We recommend NordVPN as it features a robust and customizable kill switch, excellent speeds, and a vast server network.
- Fast and large worldwide network of VPN servers
- Perfect for privacy and streaming
- Trusted by many, with over 14 million users
- Open the VPN client or application on your device.
- Access the Settings menu. It’s usually designated by a gear icon.
- Look for the “Kill Switch” option or button. It’s usually located in “General Settings” or has its own tab, like in NordVPN:
- Set your Kill Switch preferences. Typically, you have the option to toggle the kill switch on/off and select specific apps you’d like to block. However, some providers, including NordVPN, feature automatic or always-on kill switches that are active even without being specifically turned on.
- Your kill switch should now be active!
Test Your Kill Switch:
You can test a VPN kill switch by blocking the VPN provider in your firewall. If your internet connection goes down after the VPN is blocked, your kill switch is working.
The Risks of Not Using a VPN With a Kill Switch
Using a VPN without a kill switch is like driving a car without a seat belt. You’re asking for trouble if things go wrong. The specific risks associated with not using a VPN kill switch are listed below.
- Your IP address becomes visible and traceable. Without a kill switch, your IP address, browsing history, and other personal information will become visible to your internet service provider, government, or other prying eyes if your VPN connection drops. This opens you up to online surveillance and tracking.
- Using public Wi-Fi networks becomes dangerous. Hackers often target public Wi-Fi networks, as several unsecured devices are connected to them. As such, a VPN is critical to using public Wi-Fi safely. However, without a kill switch, your activity can become visible on public Wi-Fi. This exposes you to exploitation by hackers and cybercriminals.
- You become exposed to identity theft and malware. Without a kill switch, hackers can more easily exploit your connection to infect your device with malware and steal your personal information. Identity theft is a common result of this lack of security.
- You risk censorship. Without a VPN kill switch, you risk being subject to government censorship and blocking due to your IP address getting leaked. This is especially true in countries with restrictive internet regimes, like Turkey, where posting content online can even lead to jail time.
The VPNs With the Best and Most Reliable Kill Switches
Now that you know the importance of using a VPN kill switch, you’re probably wondering which VPNs offer the best and most reliable kill switches. After testing 80+ VPNs, we concluded that NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and Surfshark offer the best VPN kill switches.
1. NordVPN: The VPN with the best kill switch
Our highest-rated VPN provider, NordVPN, features a customizable and reliable kill switch that will secure your information even if your connection falters.
NordVPN offers app-level and system-level kill switches on both Windows and macOS. It even offers a permanent kill switch on Windows, though this feature is missing on other operating systems.
Paired with NordVPN’s robust security protocols and true no-logs policy, its reliable kill switch makes it one of the best VPNs for security and privacy today. You can test the VPN using its 30-day money-back guarantee.
Read our full NordVPN review for more details on its kill switch and no-logs policy.
- Fast and large worldwide network of VPN servers
- Perfect for privacy and streaming
- Trusted by many, with over 14 million users
2. Private Internet Access: The best permanent kill switch for Windows and macOS
One of NordVPN’s only drawbacks is the lack of a permanent kill switch on macOS. PIA provides a great alternative with permanent kill switches on both Mac and Windows. A permanent kill switch is an ultra-secure option that prevents your device from accessing the internet without first connecting to a VPN server.
PIA is also known for its strong emphasis on user privacy and safety. It’s also more affordable than NordVPN, which makes it a great choice for first-time users. What’s more, it offers a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can get a free trial.
Check out our full PIA review to learn how customizable its kill switch is.
- Strong focus on privacy and security
- Good price
- Fast and stable servers
3. Surfshark: The best VPN kill switch for mobile devices
Setting up a kill switch on mobile devices can be challenging. Some VPN providers require the creation of a separate VPN profile (using the phone’s settings menu). Surfshark sidesteps this confusing process and provides a kill switch that works directly from the mobile app.
While the Surfshark kill switch isn’t flexible or customizable, it does its job well on all platforms. Surfshark is also one of the fastest VPNs we’ve tested, making it an ideal option for unblocking streaming services and sports content.
Find out more about Surfshark’s features in our full review, or jump straight into the VPN risk-free, thanks to its 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Very user-friendly and works with Netflix and torrents
- 30-day money-back guarantee. No questions asked!
- Cheap with many extra options
Final Thoughts: Stay Safe Online with a VPN Kill Switch
A VPN app protects your identity and information online. But like any other software, VPNs don’t work perfectly all the time.
A kill switch helps keep your information private even when your VPN falters. By blocking off internet access during VPN malfunctions, you ensure that your data and activities are never leaked or compromised.
For most users, we recommend a system-level temporary kill switch. This will keep you safe without unduly impacting your internet connectivity. For situations where privacy is paramount, using a permanent kill switch is a better solution. NordVPN offers both types of kill switches on Windows.
Have unanswered questions about what a kill switch is and how it works? Check out our FAQ section below for answers to some of the most common kill switch-related questions
A kill switch is a security feature that protects your information even if your VPN connection falters. It blocks off your internet access to ensure that no personal information, such as your IP address, is not leaked when your connection to a VPN server is disrupted.
The steps in setting up a kill switch differ across service providers. But the following steps should generally work:
- Open your VPN application.
- Click on the Settings icon.
- Find the kill switch button or menu option.
- Toggle the kill switch on or off, or cutomize how it works.
- Your kill switch is now active!
We recommend NordVPN as it has both a temporary kill switch and a permanent kill switch.
Most VPN providers claim to have kill switches. However, not all kill switches work reliably. Some VPNs leak information even with the kill switch turned on.
Based on our tests, the following VPN providers have the most reliable switches:
- NordVPN: Reliable and customizable kill switches on all operating systems
- PIA: Permanent kill switches on macOS and Windows
- Surfshark: Easy-to-use mobile VPN kill switches