What is a VPN Kill Switch and Why Do You Have To Use One?
Last Updated: June 2, 2021
With the state of the internet these days, you would be doing yourself a disservice if you do not protect yourself in some way. One of the best ways to stay secure is through using a VPN. A VPN (short for Virtual Private Network) is an app that encrypts and strengthens your internet network. That way, every signal and data proceeding from and to your device is protected.
With a VPN, you will be largely unhackable, especially with providers that encrypt users’ data using the AES 256-bit encryption model. However, there are brief spells where a window of opportunity opens up for hackers and cybercriminals. These are usually in the instances where your VPN connection fails while you use the VPN service. In this discussion, we examine one potent tool you can use to stay safe even in such situations.
Why VPN Connections Fail
One of the metrics used to judge an excellent VPN provider is reliability. A VPN service is supposed to be steady, providing camouflage the entire time you are online. However, there might be situations where the VPN trips, maybe momentarily. What are the chief causes of these sorts of situations?
1. Internet Strength
The level of your internet strength might be the reason for the constant drop in connection that you experience. How stable and strong your internet connection is will determine how reliable the VPN will be. This makes it important to pay attention while using public WiFis. Shared internet connections (such as an airport or library WiFi) will undoubtedly have a lot of people connecting to them. This will lead to heavy use of the internet connection of that network, leading to weak signals for everyone connected to that service. Invariably, this would lead to heavy data losses for the VPN and cause it to drop. Thus, if possible, avoid using a shared internet connection. Generally, also, you may want to pay attention to your internet connection while using a VPN.
2. Other Security Apps
You could experience disconnections if you use security apps that are incompatible with the VPN. Apps in this category include anti-spyware apps, anti-virus, and firewalls. If you notice that your VPN connection drops regularly and you have any of these security apps installed, you may want to confirm that there are no compatibility challenges. Just disable the other apps and then relaunch your VPN connection. Monitor it for a while to see if the connection drops or not. This will then inform you where the challenge is from.
3. Choice of VPN Protocol
The VPN protocol that you connect to could also affect the reliability of your VPN network. Excellent providers will offer you the option of connecting to several security protocols. Top-tier ones like ExpressVPN and NordVPN even have their unique and proprietary protocols (known as Lightway and Nordlynx, respectively).
Unfortunately, you may not know which VPN protocol might be less than ideal for reliability. Some providers inform you of the best protocols to connect to. Others simply hook you up with the best whenever you come online. However, in the absence of these two exceptions, you may well be on your own when it comes to the choice of protocols.
In any case, if you notice that the VPN connection keeps tripping off without any reasonable explanation, you may want to confirm that the provider has a feature known as a kill switch. A kill switch makes sure that even when the VPN connection fails, you still stay protected.
What is a VPN Kill Switch?
A VPN Kill Switch is a VPN feature that disconnects your internet service immediately after your VPN connection drops. It reconnects you when you are back online. Remember that a VPN swaps out your IP address and replaces it with one that is encrypted and secure. However, if your VPN connection fails, that veneer of protection is torn off. Thus, your real IP address will be revealed.
Hackers that may have been on the prowl, looking for that window of opportunity, will just jump on your service and wreak havoc on your data. However, with a kill switch, the possibility of that happening is severely limited. When it takes you off the internet, there will be no traffic to and from your device. Hence, no one can access nonexistent data to compromise your integrity.
Categories of VPN Kill Switches
There are different categorizations of kill switches. This is mostly due to the different forms it appears for different providers. There are kill switches that automatically come on when you connect the VPN to the internet. For most, however, you will have to get to the settings and toggle the options.
Also, you may find system-wide and app-level kill switches. The system-wide kill switch causes the entire device system to shut down once it detects a connection loss. This automatically prevents any app from connecting to the internet till the VPN’s connection returns.
On the other hand, app-level kill switches prevent specific apps from accessing the internet when the VPN drops. This latter option requires a certain level of finesse and is hence most appropriate for users who are familiar with their device system. If you believe that you will not be compromised even if certain apps continue to access the internet without the VPN’s protection, then you are good to go. In any case, it is necessary to find out what exactly the VPN provider offers.
Do You Really Need A VPN Kill Switch?
The question of whether and why you need a kill switch has been answered above. However, to put it plainly, yes, you do need to go ahead only with a VPN provider that sports a kill switch. This is because regardless of how trustworthy the VPN provider is, you may be unable to predict or prevent connection drops. In some cases, you may not even realize when the VPN connection has been lost.
It will be in your best interest to get a VPN that sports a kill switch. In addition, always keep the kill switch on. If you are an activist, journalist, or blogger, there may be greater reasons for you not to take chances with your security. Furthermore, you should leave the kill switch on while working or typing in sensitive data such as your password. In all other situations, you may want to leave the kill switch on periodically. However, if you can always leave it on, why not?
Other Security Features to Consider When Choosing a VPN
Apart from a kill switch, there are other security features you should look out for when selecting a VPN. We take a look at some of them below:
Encryption and Security Protocols
The first thing to consider is the encryption model your service provider of choice uses. The most popular is the AES 256-bit encryption system. It is greatly reliable and is even used by the United States military. Do confirm that your provider makes use of this model. Furthermore, security protocols are also of key importance. There is the OpenVPN, the L2TP, PPTP, and IKEv2 protocols.
Furthermore, when it comes to privacy, the location of the VPN is very important. Only go with providers with headquarters in privacy-friendly regions. These countries should not be part of any of the 5/7/12 alliances. Thus, they would have no business complying with any data-sharing arrangements. When it comes to a provider’s logging policy, they could be insincere about whether they log their users’ data or not. However, you can easily confirm if a VPN provider’s location is indeed favorable. Simply check if it is among any of the countries that make up the alliances. That gives you all the information you need.
Tor Over VPN
Compatibility with the Onion Router might also be another security feature to consider. Essentially, this activating this feature means that you browse with the Tor browser under the VPN’s protection. This ramps up your security. The Tor browser is one of the most secure browsers you can find. It routes users’ traffic through several of its servers. This obfuscation, added to the security already available with the VPN, tightens your security further. This combination keeps you safe regardless of the onslaught of cybercriminals.
Using a VPN to secure your security is a wise decision. A VPN may, however, momentarily fail in some situations. Despite any provider’s reassurances, this is inevitable. A kill switch steps up in such scenarios, promptly taking you off the internet and keeping you safe. In this discussion, we discuss in detail what a VPN kill switch is and why you need one.