When you connect to a VPN (virtual private network), you probably trust that your traffic is safe and secure. But that connection can easily be interrupted or drop, particularly if you are on a mobile device. This is why a VPN kill switch is so important. It ensures all internet traffic remains encrypted and secure within the VPN tunnel.
So what is a VPN kill switch exactly?
In short, a VPN kill switch will keep your data secure by blocking traffic or certain connections if the encrypted VPN tunnel is not active. We’ll examine exactly how this works in more detail below, as well as looking at different real-world examples. But first, let’s cover some basics.
Your privacy is at risk
According to Dave Winder, Senior Cybersecurity Contributor at Forbes, by mid-2020, there were over 15 billion stolen logins (usernames + passwords) available for sale on the internet right now. Combined with information gleaned from your IP address, a hacker would be well on his or her way to all sorts of nasty tricks, including breaking into your accounts and stealing your identity.
While protecting the login credentials that businesses and governments store in their poorly-protected databases is out of our hands, you can take steps to hide your IP address. Using a VPN can prevent your real IP address from making it into those business and government databases, meaning that someone who got their hands on your login information wouldn’t be able to tell it belongs to you.
When you go online with a VPN, your unique IP address and location are concealed from the websites, trackers, and anyone else online. This information is replaced with the VPN server’s IP address and location, as you can see in the diagram below. Additionally, your internet traffic gets fully encrypted between your device and the VPN server.
A VPN’s ability to hide your real IP address protects your privacy in many situations. Your IP address can be used to track your activities across the internet. Advertisers can use the information they gather to create a profile on you. Governments can see if you are going places they don’t want you to go. Whether you are downloading (torrenting) movies, reading up on some unpleasant medical condition, or visiting a website the local politicians don’t want you to see, you deserve the privacy you get by using a VPN to hide your real IP address.
Note: And speaking of ads, you should definitely be using a good ad blocker for both privacy and security. There are also a few VPNs that offer ad-blocking features, which we cover in our guide on VPNs with ad blocking.
But what happens if you are doing something you want to keep private and your connection to the VPN goes down for some reason? If your VPN does not have a good kill switch, this can create big problems, such as leaking your real IP address out for anyone to see. And if you at torrenting with a VPN, and living in a country that prosecutes torrenters for violating copyright regulations, this could lead to problems.
Solution: Use a VPN with a good kill switch
Fortunately, the solution here is simple. Use a VPN with a good kill switch, and make sure the kill switch is enabled when you need privacy online.
Many of the best VPNs have a VPN kill switch (also known as an internet kill switch or simply a kill switch). A kill switch detects when there is a problem with the connection to the VPN, and stops (kills) the flow of messages from your device. While this interrupts whatever you were doing when the connection failed, it also prevents messages with your real IP address in them from getting out where someone might see them.
If you value your privacy, a VPN with a good kill switch is the way to go.
Two types of VPN kill switches
First, let’s clarify something. There are actually two types of kill switches: system level and application level.
- System level kill switches – System level kill switches detect when there is a problem with your connection to the VPN server you are using. The instant that happens, the kill switch sends a signal to the device telling it to block all traffic from leaving the device. Because a system level VPN kill switch stops all traffic going from your device, it is a sure way to prevent your IP address from leaking onto the internet.
- Application level kill switches – This lets you decide which apps you want stopped when the kill switch is active. It gives you complete control over what still works and what doesn’t. But it also increases the odds of your IP address being exposed since some apps will still be ‘talking’ to the internet even though they aren’t protected. People who use application level kill switches typically use them to disable things like their web browser, email app, chat apps like Skype, and whatever apps they use to download torrents.
By now, you can see why a kill switch is so important. So let’s take a very quick look at three top-quality VPNs that have excellent kill switches in addition to all their other outstanding characteristics.
The best VPNs with a kill switch
We’ve reviewed countless VPN services over the years. And we keep revisiting the good ones so we can keep you abreast of the latest info on the best of the best. When we do this, we keep coming back to three VPNs that currently rise above all the rest. One of the many reasons we consider these the best VPNs in 2021 is because all three of them have excellent VPN kill switches.
The three VPNs we can unequivocally recommend for anyone looking for a great VPN with a great internet kill switch are:
So let’s examine each of these VPNs in more detail and the kill switches they offer.
NordVPN – Both types of kill switch in one VPN
|Logs||No logs (audited)|
|Support||24/7 live chat|
NordVPN excels in many different areas, from privacy and security to streaming and unblocking websites. And with a large network of fast servers, it remains the best VPN for streaming with access to numerous media libraries. It is currently the fastest VPN we have tested, hitting speeds around 445 Mbps with the WireGuard VPN protocol.
NordVPN is unique in this list in that it provides both a system level and an application level kill switch. NordVPN apps for iOS, Linux, and MacOS (the IKE version) all have a system level VPN kill switch. Current versions of the Android operating system (version 7.0 or later) have a kill switch built-in that you can control from the device’s settings.
Here you can see the two kill switches with NordVPN’s Windows VPN client:
As you can see above, the Windows app has both types of kill switch, allowing you to choose which you would like to use on your Windows computer. Similarly, the macOS (OpenVPN version) of the NordVPN app offers both an application and internet kill switch.
To learn more about this VPN service, check out our complete NordVPN review. There’s also an active coupon for NordVPN right now, which you can get below.
Surfshark VPN – System level kill switch
|Based in||The Netherlands|
|Support||24/7 live chat|
Surfshark is another fast, secure, and fully-featured VPN, that continues to grow in popularity. It is based in the British Virgin Islands and is a no logs VPN with strong privacy features. And it also has many similarities to our other top recommendation, as you can see in the Surfshark vs NordVPN comparison.
One big distinguishing factor that sets Surfshark apart from other VPNs is that it gives you unlimited connections with your VPN. Most other popular VPNs, such as NordVPN and CyberGhost, limit the number of connections to between 5 and 10. Another distinguishing factor is the price. Surfshark is the cheapest VPN in this guide, coming in at only $2.49 per month.
Like NordVPN, Surfshark also supports the WireGuard VPN protocol. This gives it excellent speeds, beating out other leading VPNs, as you can see in the Surfshark vs ExpressVPN comparison. Surfshark also does well in the streaming category. It is rated as one of the best VPNs for Netflix, with support for 30+ Netflix regions.
In terms of a VPN kill switch, Surfshark differs slightly from NordVPN. They offer a network kill switch that blocks all traffic, with no option for an application kill switch. Surfshark’s kill switch is included in their Windows, Mac OS, Android, and iOS VPN apps. Their Linux app does not include a kill switch. Below you can see the kill switch options for Surfshark’s Android VPN app.
To learn more about this VPN service, check out our complete Surfshark review. You can also take advantage of great savings since Surfshark offers some excellent VPN coupons. Below is the best deal currently available:
ExpressVPN – Network Lock, a kill switch with a twist
|Based in||British Virgin Islands|
|Logs||No logs (audited)|
|Support||24/7 live chat|
ExpressVPN is a well-respected and reliable VPN service with high-quality and secure VPN apps. It is based in the British Virgin Islands and is an audited no-logs VPN provider. One thing that sets ExpressVPN apart from the crowd is that it is very user-friendly and reliable, but it’s also more expensive than most other VPNs at $6.67 per month.
ExpressVPN calls their VPN kill switch the Network Lock feature. Network Lock is a system level kill switch that is included in the Windows, Mac OS, Linux, and Android VPN apps, along with the VPN router app.
One clever feature of Network Lock is that it works with ExpressVPN’s split tunneling feature. With split tunneling, you can select apps to pass unprotected outside the encrypted VPN tunnel. Network Lock recognizes this and does not kill any apps that are traveling outside the VPN tunnel.
ExpressVPN also packs in some other great features, such as the Lightway protocol. Lightway delivers improved speeds and better reliability. However, it’s still not quite as fast as NordVPN, as you can see in our ExpressVPN vs NordVPN comparison.
To learn more about this VPN service, check out our complete ExpressVPN review. With ExpressVPN, you can also get three months free when you sign up for the annual plan.
VPN kill switch FAQ
Here are some of the questions that come up frequently when discussing VPN kill switches.
What exactly is a VPN Kill switch?
A VPN kill switch (also known as a kill switch or internet kill switch) disconnects your device from the internet if your VPN connection drops. This ensures that your real IP address doesn’t get exposed while the VPN is not functioning correctly.
Some kill switches completely disable the connection, preventing anything from leaving your device until the VPN connection is restored. Other kill switches selectively disable apps that might leak your IP address rather than the entire connection.
Why should I use a VPN kill switch?
A VPN is meant to protect your privacy online. It does that by preventing your real IP address from being visible while you are connected to the VPN. But what happens if the connection to the VPN server is lost for some reason?
If you aren’t using a VPN with a kill switch, your device will continue communicating using the internet. But your IP address will no longer be hidden by the VPN. Your privacy will be gone until the VPN connection is reestablished.
If you are using a VPN with a kill switch, your device’s connection to the internet will be cut until the VPN connection is restored. While this will temporarily prevent you from using the internet, it will also ensure that your IP address is not exposed, thereby ensuring your privacy.
When does a VPN kill switch activate?
A VPN kill switch will activate (disconnect your device from the internet) the instant it detects that there is a problem with your internet connection. Situations where this can happen include:
- When switching between WiFi routers, such as when you are using your smartphone while traveling.
- When switching VPN servers.
- When the connection to the VPN server is lost, or the VPN server fails.
What Are the Leading Causes for VPN Disconnections?
While the three kill switch VPNs we recommend here are reliable, there are various situations and events that can cause you to lose the connection to a VPN server. Here are several:
- A conflict between the VPN and your firewall, antivirus, or anti-malware apps may cause your connection to drop for no apparent reason. You can check for this problem by temporarily disabling those features.
- Using the “wrong” VPN protocol could make the connection unstable. You can check for this problem by changing VPN protocols and seeing if the connection behaves better.
- Low WiFi signals or network crowding can cause you to temporarily lose your connection to the VPN server. You can check for this problem by connecting to the internet using a wired, rather than wireless connection.
- The VPN server or the VPN app crash. You can check for this problem by restarting the VPN app on your device and connecting to another VPN server.
- You are transitioning from coverage by one access point to another. You can check for this problem by observing whether it happens all the time, or only when you are moving.
- Network congestion between you and the VPN server can interrupt the connection.
VPN router – a backup to keep you safe
As we have noted above, there are certain situations when software fails. For times like these, and when you really need your privacy to be secured, there is an excellent solution. Enter the VPN router.
A VPN router will encrypt all traffic on your network that connects to the router. So if you are using a VPN on your computer, you can also use a VPN on your router. This will encrypt your traffic twice. And if the VPN on your computer fails or breaks, the VPN router will ensure your traffic remains encrypted.
We have reviewed different VPN routers over the years, and you can see an excellent roundup of the best VPN routers here. Our top recommendation right now remains the Vilfo router, from the makers of OVPN in Sweden. This router not only offers the fastest speeds with a powerful processor, it also gives you tons of features, including selective routing, device control, and more. Check out our Vilfo review for details.
Conclusion on VPN kill switches
The best VPNs include a kill switch feature to ensure that your privacy is protected online. By blocking your internet traffic whenever the connection to the VPN server is lost, a kill switch prevents your IP address from being exposed and keeps your activities private.
While they are not the only VPNs with reliable kill switches, the three VPN services discussed here, NordVPN, Surfshark, and ExpressVPN are excellent all-around VPN services.
This VPN kill switch guide was last updated on November 9, 2021.