What is a VPN Kill Switch? All You Need to Know (2023)

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is a VPN Kill Switch? All You Need to Know (2023)

What is a VPN Kill Switch?

Picture this: you’re enjoying a cup of coffee at your favorite café, using their public Wi-Fi to catch up on emails and browse the web. But suddenly, your VPN connection drops, leaving you exposed to potential hackers and snoopers. This is where a VPN kill switch comes in, an essential tool for maintaining privacy in an increasingly connected world.

In this blog post, we’ll explore what a VPN kill switch is, why it’s so crucial, and how to use it effectively.


  • A VPN kill switch blocks your internet access, if the VPN connection fails. This protects your data from flowing to the internet outside of the encrypted VPN tunnel. Once the VPN connection is re-established, your internet access will automatically be restored.

  • There are two types of VPN kill switches: System Level and Application Level. The system-level kill switch will block the entire data flow if the VPN fails, while the app-level kill switch will only block the data flow of specific apps.

  • Reliable providers with secure kill switch features include CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, NordVPN & Surfshark.

Don’t become a victim of cybercrime. Protect your devices with the best antivirus software and your privacy with the best VPN service.

Understanding VPN Kill Switches

In today’s digital era, online privacy and security are paramount. A VPN kill switch is a powerful feature that helps safeguard your sensitive data by automatically disconnecting your device from the internet if your VPN connection fails. By blocking all data from being sent outside the encrypted VPN tunnel, a kill switch ensures that your IP address and browsing activity remain hidden even when your VPN connection suddenly drops.

To fully grasp the importance of VPN kill switches, let’s dive deeper into their purpose and how they operate, including the two main types: system-level and application-level kill switches.

The Purpose of a VPN Kill Switch

A VPN kill switch serves as a shield for your online privacy, keeping your IP address and sensitive information concealed if your VPN connection is interrupted. This feature kicks in immediately when the VPN connection drops, ensuring that your data remains secure and unexposed.

Without a VPN kill switch, any disruption in your VPN connection could result in your real IP address and browsing activity being exposed, defeating the purpose of using a VPN in the first place. Hence, a VPN kill switch plays a crucial role in maintaining your privacy and security online.

How VPN Kill Switches Operate

VPN kill switches work by constantly monitoring your connection to the VPN server for any changes in status or IP address. When your VPN connection drops or fails, the kill switch kicks in, blocking your device from accessing the internet until the VPN connection is restored. This ensures that your privacy remains intact, and unsecured connections are avoided.

VPN kill switches come in two varieties: system level and application level. Each offers different levels of protection for network traffic. System-level kill switches block all internet traffic if the VPN connection is lost, while application-level kill switches only block specific applications from accessing the internet. Each type has its advantages and use cases, which we’ll explore in the next section.

Types of VPN Kill Switches

Earlier, we discussed types of VPN kill switches: system level and application level. These two forms offer different levels of protection to the user. Understanding their differences is essential for selecting the one that best suits your needs.

System-level kill switches provide more comprehensive protection by blocking all internet traffic if the VPN connection is lost, while application-level kill switches offer more flexibility by allowing you to choose specific apps to block when the VPN connection drops.

Let’s take a closer look at each type.

System Level Kill Switches

System-level kill switches offer an all-encompassing layer of protection for your entire device. By detecting when your VPN connection drops and blocking your device from accessing the internet via Wi-Fi or mobile data, system-level kill switches effectively prevent IP leaks and keep your sensitive information secure.

However, there’s a trade-off for this increased security. A system-level kill switch can be enabled to block your internet connection. It is done either by waiting for the VPN connection to be up and running again, or by resetting the network adapter. This can be inconvenient, but it’s a small price to pay for the extra protection it provides.

Application Level Kill Switches

Application-level kill switches, on the other hand, provide more control and customization by allowing you to select specific apps to be blocked when the VPN connection is lost. This is particularly useful if you want to ensure that certain apps, such as torrent clients or messaging apps, remain private and secure without disrupting your entire internet connection.

While application-level kill switches offer more flexibility, they may not provide the same level of security as system-level kill switches. If your VPN connection drops, apps not selected for the kill switch will continue to access the internet, potentially exposing your IP address and sensitive data.

So, it’s essential to carefully choose which apps to protect with an application-level kill switch.

When to Use a VPN Kill Switch

Now that we’ve covered the basics of VPN kill switches, let’s discuss some scenarios where using one is crucial for ensuring maximum privacy and security. Whether you’re connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, participating in torrenting, or engaging in P2P activities, a VPN kill switch can protect your identity and sensitive information from being exposed.

In the following sections, we’ll explore each of these situations in more detail.

Public Wi-Fi Networks

Public Wi-Fi networks are notorious for their lack of security, making them a prime target for hackers and snoopers. Using a VPN kill switch while connected to public Wi-Fi networks ensures that your online activities remain private and secure, even if your VPN connection is interrupted.

By blocking your device from accessing the internet in the event of a VPN disconnection, a VPN kill switch helps protect your sensitive data from potential cybercriminals.

Torrenting and P2P Activities

Torrenting and P2P activities often involve sharing large files and sensitive data, making it crucial to protect your identity and IP address. A VPN kill switch provides an extra layer of security by continuously monitoring the connection to the VPN server and scanning for changes in status or IP address. This is essential for keeping unencrypted data and your IP address secure, even in the event of a VPN disconnection.

Activating and Configuring Your VPN Kill Switch

Activating and configuring a VPN kill switch depends on the device you’re using and the VPN provider. The process involves going to the VPN settings and enabling the kill switch feature, or accessing your device’s settings to configure the kill switch according to the VPN provider’s instructions.

In the following sections, we’ll provide step-by-step instructions on how to activate and configure VPN kill switches on Windows, macOS, and mobile devices (Android and iOS).

Windows Devices

Enabling a VPN kill switch on Windows devices is relatively straightforward. First, open your VPN client and navigate to the VPN settings. Look for the kill switch feature, which is often labeled as “network lock” or something similar, and simply enable it. This will activate the VPN kill switch and protect your online activities in case of a VPN disconnection.

If you’re using an application-level VPN kill switch on Windows, you’ll need to configure your firewall settings to block all traffic that isn’t routed through your VPN. This can be done by accessing your device’s firewall settings and creating a new rule to block the specific apps you want to protect.

macOS Devices

Activating a VPN kill switch on macOS devices may vary depending on your VPN provider. For instance, to enable NordVPN’s kill switch, you’ll need to use either the OpenVPN or Nordlynx protocols and connect to a server using either of these protocols. Then, you can access the kill switch feature in the VPN settings and enable it.

For other VPN providers, the process might be slightly different. In most cases, you can simply navigate to the VPN settings within the VPN client and enable the kill switch feature. Be sure to consult your VPN provider’s documentation or support for specific instructions.

Mobile Devices (Android and iOS)

To activate a VPN kill switch on your Android device, go to Settings > Wireless and networks > VPN kill switch. More > VPN. Then toggle on the kill switch option. This should work for Android 7 and above, although the exact steps may vary depending on the VPN provider.

For iOS devices, go to Settings > VPN and toggle the kill switch option on. This should work for iOS 8 and later, but again, the exact steps may vary depending on your VPN provider. Always check your VPN provider’s documentation or support for specific activation and configuration instructions.

Potential Issues with VPN Kill Switches

While VPN kill switches offer valuable protection for your online privacy, they are not without their potential issues. Inconsistent kill switch performance and disruptions to your online activities are some of the potential problems users may experience.

In the following sections, we’ll discuss these issues in more detail and provide some tips to help you overcome them.

Inconsistent Kill Switch Functionality

Inconsistencies in kill switch performance can be a cause for concern, as it might leave your IP address and sensitive data exposed if the kill switch fails to activate when needed. These issues could be due to firewall settings or even issues with the VPN service itself.

To improve the reliability of your VPN kill switch, ensure that your firewall settings are configured to allow the VPN client to pass through. If you’re still experiencing issues, check for updates to your VPN software or contact your VPN provider’s customer support for further assistance.

Disrupted Online Activities

When a VPN kill switch activates, it can disrupt your online activities by blocking your internet connection. This can be particularly inconvenient when you’re in the middle of an important task or enjoying online entertainment. To minimize disruptions, use a reliable VPN provider with a properly configured kill switch and a wired connection when possible.

Additionally, make sure your Wi-Fi signal is strong, and consider whitelisting apps that don’t send sensitive data.

Top VPN Providers with Reliable Kill Switches

If you’re looking for a VPN provider with a reliable kill switch, ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and Surfshark are all excellent options. These providers offer robust security features, user-friendly apps, and speedy connection speeds, ensuring that your online privacy and security remain uncompromised.

By choosing a top VPN provider with a reliable kill switch, you can confidently browse the web without worrying about IP leaks or unwanted exposure of your sensitive information.


In conclusion, VPN kill switches are an essential tool for maintaining online privacy and security in today’s digital world. They provide a critical layer of protection against IP leaks and unauthorized exposure of sensitive information, particularly when using public Wi-Fi networks or engaging in torrenting and P2P activities. By understanding the different types of VPN kill switches, knowing when to use them, and selecting a reliable VPN provider, you can confidently surf the web and enjoy online activities without compromising your privacy. So take control of your digital life and embrace the security that VPN kill switches have to offer.

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

Should you turn on your VPN kill switch?

For maximum security, you should definitely turn on your VPN’s kill switch. It will prevent data from traveling outside the encrypted VPN tunnel if your connection unexpectedly drops, and also offers another layer of protection against potential cyberattacks.

Having a VPN kill switch enabled is an essential part of keeping your online data safe and secure.

How do VPN kill switches work?

A VPN kill switch is a security feature that automatically disconnects your device from the internet if you lose your VPN connection. The concept of having a kill switch creates a single point of control (i.e. a switch) which can be used to shut down the Internet in order to protect users and their data.

It monitors your connection and instantly detects any changes that could prevent your VPN from functioning properly. If the connection drops, the kill switch blocks any unsecured connections until your VPN is restored.

What does a VPN kill switch do?

A VPN kill switch blocks your internet access, if the VPN connection fails. This protects your data from flowing to the internet outside of the encrypted VPN tunnel. Once the VPN connection is re-established, your internet access will automatically be restored.

What does the NordVPN kill switch do?

NordVPN’s kill switch is a security feature that helps protect your data from any potential leaks. It works by automatically disconnecting your device from the internet if the connection to the secure server is lost or broken, preventing your IP address and sensitive information from being exposed online.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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