Everybody needs a kill switch – but we don’t mean a Bond gadget or Mission: Impossible doodad. A kill switch is a safety mechanism, an emergency brake designed to shut down a process as quickly as possible without intervention by the operator.

When talking about online protection and the meaning of VPN connection terms, a kill switch is your final and best defense against hackers, snoopers, surveillance, and DDoS attacks from jealous rivals while gaming.

Think of it as an automatic circuit breaker that disconnects your device from the internet if something disrupts the connection.

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What is a kill switch?

A kill switch can be a critical feature in industry or manufacturing where operators may need to kill heavy machinery during emergencies. Interestingly, a kill switch in a nuclear reactor plant is called SCRAM.

Kill switches also have specific tech applications. For example, some smartphones have a kill switch as a security feature in case you lose your phone, or it gets stolen. A smartphone kill switch allows you to wipe data remotely and render the smartphone inoperable. So, even if you never get it back, there’s the sweet knowledge that the thief won’t get any use from it. Some software also contains built-in kill switches, which can be used if the software is outdated, compromised, or withdrawn.

But in VPN connection terms, a VPN kill switch is a feature that automatically disconnects your device from the internet if your connection drops out. It’s an extra security layer to protect your location, data, and identity even if the VPN turns off in mid-game or Skype calls. It preserves the security of the data in transit and prevents compromise if you lose connectivity unexpectedly. If you’re concerned about online privacy, knowing how to use a VPN and a VPN kill switch can help safeguard your sensitive information from prying eyes.

How does a VPN kill switch work?

In VPN connection terms, a kill switch feature monitors your VPN connection at all times for changes in network status and IP address. It will instantly detect any changes that could prevent your VPN from working properly.

For example, suppose there is a loss of connectivity for any reason. The kill switch will instantly block access to the internet. However, as soon as the issue is resolved, your VPN will automatically restore your internet connection and reconnect your apps after the VPN is back up and running.

Most users don’t require ultra-secure environments all the time, and that’s where the different types of VPN kill switches become very handy.

A system-level VPN kill switch will completely block all apps from linking to your internet connection in case of a mishap until the VPN connection is correctly restored. It’s the ultimate protection against IP leaks.

An application-level VPN kill switch allows you to choose which apps are allowed to connect to the internet directly and which apps may not connect to the internet without the protection of a VPN. Designated apps will be blocked from connecting to the internet if there’s a problem with the VPN connection, but other apps can connect freely. It’s a flexible solution that can save you some bandwidth on your ISP data allocation. For example, you could designate your torrent client to always use a VPN connection, which will hide the connection even from your ISP.

You don’t always have to keep the kill switch on. For example, you can switch the function off and use the internet without the VPN. But your IP will be exposed, and your personal data could leak.

When you switch on the kill switch feature, you won’t be able to use the internet until you’ve connected to the Internet via the VPN.

But why would your VPN disconnect?

There are a few reasons why your VPN connection may drop, which makes it necessary to have a kill switch feature. For example:

Lousy internet connection: If your router “blinks” or when your ISP’s link goes down, you will lose your connection to your VPN server.

Switching between VPN servers: Are you a Dr. Who fan? If you usually connect to a local server in the city near you, you’ll need to switch to a UK server to watch the newest episode on the BBC.

Using elevators and shielded walkways: Most service providers have overcome this difficulty, but you may still get disconnected (and reconnected) during an elevator ride.

Restarting your device: Has your computer ever done an update overnight and then automatically reconnected to the internet, exposing your real IP? Of course, it has. Or that time when the battery ran out, or someone borrowed your phone, and you restarted it without switching the VPN back on? Such little incidents could be deadly to people relying on their VPN for personal safety.

On the move via car or other transport: Your device might be auto-connecting to several different networks without you realizing it. That’s a huge security risk.

Never connect to public Wi-Fi without a VPN: C’mon, you know the drill! And doubly so if you’re working from your local coffee shop, hotel, or airport, where the connection could drop and leak data while you’re plugging away at those secret sales statistics!

In any of these scenarios, your device may leak sensitive data during a network or server switch.

Why should you enable the VPN kill switch?

Even the best VPN could experience the occasional drop in connectivity. But that’s cold comfort if you rely on your VPN for personal safety. For example, activists or whistleblowers may not get a second chance if their real IP gets exposed. For other people who handle ultra-sensitive data, like lawyers, social workers, or journalists, the exposure of sensitive data could be a career-ending event.

Using a VPN is only their first step to privacy, and they need a kill switch to complete their protection.

A VPN kill switch gives you more choices

It rankles to think that your ISP, random websites, and even the government can see everything you do online if you don’t use a VPN to protect your privacy. Wi-Fi hotspots and public connections are easy targets for hackers. In addition, your public IP address makes it easy for strangers to pinpoint where you are. A VPN kill switch gives you extra protection against snooping, spying, and data leaks.