VPN companies are big on the kill switch, and for a good reason. The security feature protects your IP address from any accidental exposure. After all, if your VPN connection drops for whatever reason, your device goes back to its default IP address, meaning your activity can be easily tracked.
The kill switch helps counteract security vulnerabilities by terminating your internet connection whenever the VPN goes offline. Because you may not even realize if and when the connection dropped, having a kill switch provides you with peace of mind knowing your information is protected from prying eyes.
What is a VPN Kill Switch and How Does It Work?
A VPN kill switch is a security feature that constantly monitors your connection for potential interruptions or failures. If it detects anything, such as a connection drop, the kill switch will immediately block your computer/mobile from connecting to the internet until the VPN tunnel is re-established. This protects your real location and IP from accidental exposure as a result of connection issues with a VPN server.
The feature can be critically important for torrent users. If you’re downloading a torrent file, and the VPN turns off (even for a second), your online activity will be detected by your ISP. Depending on where you’re based, the ISP can throttle your speed or even report you to the authorities. With a kill switch, your connection is instantly blocked before your ISP gets a chance to review your internet activity.
Here’s an illustration of how a VPN kill switch functions:
For as long as the VPN remains disconnected, the kill switch will shield your real location and IP address, ensuring that no ISP or hacker is able to access your data.
Main Causes of Dropped VPN Connections
Even though most VPNs claim to provide 99.99% uptime, there will be instances when the connection between the VPN server and your device drops. When that happens, check your:
Firewall, Antivirus or Router Settings
Some firewall and antivirus programs may view the VPN’s external connection as a threat. As a result, they may stop the VPN by turning your encrypted tunnel into an irregular connection. To prevent this from happening, disable these programs and try re-connecting the VPN. If the connections stabilizes with the applications disabled, you’ll need to add the VPN network as an exception in their settings.
VPN Server and Protocol
If the VPN server experiences an internal malfunction, this can cause the VPN connection to drop. Problems could arise due to disruptions in physical servers, connection timeouts, or the server’s signal strength. Other than that, your choice of VPN protocol may also result in dropped VPN connections. In essence, connections are more stable on the “TCP protocol” instead of the default UDP protocol that most VPNs use. Try switching the protocol to see if it makes a difference.
An Overcrowded Network or Low Signal Strength
Too many users on a WiFi network can also cause your VPN connection to drop. This is most likely to happen when you’re attempting to use the VPN in a busy library, at an airport, or in a coffee shop. Additionally, low signal strength will cause your VPN connection to drop because of excessive data losses. Fortunately, you can use a kill switch to disable the connection so no sensitive data leaks out.
Which VPNs Have an Integrated Kill Switch
In the past few years, many VPN companies have started offering kill switches. For your ease, I’ve compiled a list of the best VPN services that have the feature by default. Below is a list of providers who offer a kill switch.
ExpressVPN has an excellent kill switch feature that it refers to as “the network lock.” You can activate it through the General tab in the Options window. However, it should be enabled by default. ExpressVPN is serious about privacy and demonstrates this through its security features.
NordVPN comes with an automatic kill switch feature that works well to protect your online privacy. Additionally, the VPN provider enables users to set up “kill lists” where you can include apps you don’t want to be disabled in case of a dropped connection. You can activate NordVPN’s kill switch through the General tab in the Settings window.
HMA VPN offers a decent kill switch feature that instantly shuts down your connection when the VPN connection drops. If you have two active VPN connections, however, only one of them will be disabled in case of the connection dropping.
How to Test a VPN Kill Switch
You can test the kill switch feature in any VPN by taking these steps:
- Launch the VPN and connect to a server
- Open your torrent client or visit a website
- Disconnect from the VPN server, but keep the VPN app running
- If your torrent downloads and internet connection stop, the kill switch is working
Alternatives Ways to Protect Your Online Privacy
There are third party applications that can help safeguard your IP address and privacy when your VPN connection drops (although I highly recommend taking advantage of your VPN’s kill switch feature). Two of the most popular ones include:
- VPN Watcher: As a VPN connection monitoring tool, VPN Watcher prevents controlled programs from transmitting data over the internet when the established connection drops.
- VPnetMon: This is a free program that closes pre-selected applications that could expose your real IP address over an unprotected connection. (update: this program is no longer available)
My personal preference is to use the integrated kill switch. It gives me peace of mind because I trust the VPN provider to keep me safe from potential threats. As long as you’re investing in a reliable VPN service, you won’t have the need to use a third-party monitoring tool.
A VPN kill switch is a handy little feature that helps protect your online privacy. Especially for those who rely on identity protection, whether it’s for whistle-blowing or P2P downloading, a kill switch is a must. This is why you should always choose a VPN service that comes with an integrated kill switch feature. If you’re looking for recommendations, I’d like to direct you to ExpressVPN or NordVPN. Hands down, they have the most reliable kill switch function.