A virtual private network (VPN) keeps your online activities safe from prying eyes. It creates an encrypted connection that transmits your data securely through multiple servers. Your original IP address gets masked by a virtual IP that shields your private network.
You can even pretend to access data from another geographical location by using a VPN. But what happens if the VPN connection fails? Wouldn’t your IP be exposed? Isn’t your security compromised? This is when a VPN kill switch comes in handy.
What is a VPN kill switch?
Earlier, when a VPN connection would fail, the system would automatically connect to the original connection, thus exposing the IP of the system. The VPN kill switch feature was introduced to combat this issue.
It detects any failure in VPN connectivity and immediately disconnects the device from the internet. Now, most VPN vendors include the VPN kill switch feature. The feature is active by default but can be deactivated if you wish to use the internet normally.
How a VPN kill switch works
The VPN kill switch performs several functions to keep your connection safe. Here’s what a VPN kill switch does:
- The kill switch continuously monitors the connection of your VPN server.
- It instantly detects changes in IP address and status of the connection.
- If any issue is detected, based on the settings, the kill switch can either block internet access to certain apps or the entire device.
- As soon as it detects that the VPN connection is restored, it restores the blocked connections.
Types of VPN kill switches
There are two types of VPN kill switches: system-level VPN kill switches and application-level VPN kill switches.
1. System-level VPN kill switches
Most VPN kill switches have a generalized behavior wherein they cut off the connectivity as soon as the VPN connection fails. Those are called system-level kill switches, or just kill switches.
When enabled, system-level kill switches block your internet connection completely to your device until you reset the network adapter or the VPN connection is restored, making them effective at preventing IP leaks.
2. Application-level VPN kill switches
These switches cut off the connectivity to certain apps, allowing you to continue browsing the internet while ensuring critical data on pre-defined apps remains safe.
This can be applied to apps that store sensitive information such as banking, work-related, and email apps. You can also include illegal and controversial apps like torrenting apps.
Risks of not using a VPN kill switch
A VPN kill switch can help you keep your online activity secure and private. However, VPNs are not foolproof and your connection can drop, leaving your sensitive data exposed.
Below are some risks of using VPNs without kill switches:
- A VPN is designed to keep your online activity secure. By not using or deactivating the VPN kill switch, your VPN will fail to do its job. Not using a VPN kill switch can lead to IP address and activity leaks.
- Using free WiFi in public spaces without a VPN or with a failed VPN can make your network unsafe and your data can become vulnerable. Public WiFi connections also make it easier for tracing and pinpointing your location.
- Also, your online activity becomes traceable. Advertisers have more information on your browsing data and geographical region. This enables them to build your profile and push targeted ads to your devices.
- Hacking a VPN network is nearly impossible, but hackers may still plant spyware, cookies, or malware in hope of a failed connection. A dropped VPN connection can make your device susceptible to hacking.
Should you have a VPN kill switch?
For most people, VPN connection failures might not be a big deal. But it can matter for people who need higher levels of data privacy. If losing your VPN connectivity can hamper you in any way, then you need to have a VPN kill switch. Some of these scenarios could be:
- Users of illegal peer-to-peer software like torrents.
- People like activists or journalists whose lives might be at risk if they are tracked.
- Upper government officials who might hold confidential information regarding national security.
- High-profile individuals with confidential documents.
While most of the leading VPN vendors are highly reliable, they too might face connectivity issues. If you need to maintain the security of your connection and it is highly crucial that you do so, you can’t just rely on the VPN. You need the kill switch to add an extra layer of safety to your VPN connection.
How to check if your VPN kill switch is working
Checking the reliability of a VPN kill switch is quite easy. Just start by connecting to a VPN server. Browse the internet normally and then block your VPN app using a firewall. If the kill switch has worked properly, you should no longer be able to access the internet.
Most leading VPNs have a built-in kill switch that’s enabled by default. Keeping this feature always enabled is highly advisable as it keeps your connection secure. Reliable kill switches such as the Juniper Network Switches are the strongest line of defense your devices need.
- What is a VPN kill switch and how does it work? By Catherine Hiley, November 11, 2021 – Cybernews
- VPN kill switches explained, why you need one and how to use them by Mike Williams, August 23, 2021 – TechRadar
- A VPN Kill Switch Is a Special Feature that Protects Your Privacy – What Is My IP Address
- Do You Need a VPN Kill Switch? By Brendan Hesse, August 5, 2021 – Lifehacker
- What is a VPN kill switch and do you need one? By Paul Bischoff, Decemeber 10, 2020 – Comparitech