The need for a VPN killswitch

October 30, 2017 Bram Jansen, Online Privacy Expert

A killswitch is often the most overlooked, yet most important factor when choosing your virtual private network (VPN). An effective killswitch can have a huge impact on your browsing and downloading experience to make it quicker, safer, and more reliable. While VPNs were designed primarily for privacy concerns and a need for a better browsing experience, the killswitch can often make or break your online activity—especially when a VP connection is dropped.

A VPN can increase your connection speed and strength significantly. However, no connection is ever perfect and on certain rare occasions, your connection could drop due to several external factors. The three main causes include:

  • Firewall settings or router settings: Certain settings within your firewall or router settings, or other certain software settings could be a reason for a connection drop.
  • Choice of VPN protocol: Research shows that A VPN’s connection reliability often has to do with the protocol it uses. According to ExpressVPN, the connection is significantly more stable when a VPN uses a TCP protocol. However, currently, the default protocol is UDP. You can manually switch protocols if necessary.
  • Inadequate signal strength: Sometimes it simply comes down to lack of signal strength, particularly for remote users. Despite the remote VPN servers, connection quality still directly relies on Wi-Fi signal strength. Congested networks, especially on public Wi-Fi networks, could be the cause of the problems.

The dropped connection is where the importance of the killswitch comes in. A killswitch is an added feature in most VPN services, and essentially, it’s the piece of technology that ensures that your IP address stays safely hidden from prying eyes in the event of a dropped connection via a VPN. When the killswitch feature is enabled, it immediately kills your internet connection if the VPN connection fails to ensure that your IP address is not accidentally exposed.

If the killswitch feature is disabled, your device will continue to connect to the Internet via your regular ISP connection. However, this will allow your IP address to be exposed. In addition, your location will be visible to visited websites and protocols that you frequent when the killswitch is disabled.

How a killswitch works

Essentially the killswitch functions similarly to a tripwire. When enabled, the killswitch feature continuously monitors your Internet connectivity to detect a change in strength, status, or IP address. In the event of an Internet connectivity contingency, such as when the VPN connection drops, the killswitch immediately blocks your device from accessing the Internet. The killswitch will block your connection until it considers the VPN connection to again be safe.

The killswitch reaction is always instant. This is to prevent your device from re-establishing a connection via your ISP where your connection will fall outside of the VPN encryption.

Find and activate the killswitch

The majority of VPN services offer a killswitch function. The difficult part is that different software companies often use different names for this function. In addition, some VPN providers' software has the killswitch function enabled by default, while others require the user to manually enable it.

In terms of killswitch implementation in VPN services, there is no standard practice. Usually, you need to check whether the killswitch is enabled by opening your VPN settings. However, the best method is to read your VPN service provider’s FAQ page. If you don’t have a VPN yet, research their killswitch policy first. Some VPNs advertise their killswitch function more heavily than others, and this should be a deciding factor when determining your VPN service.

There are hundreds of VPNs available with killswitches and one of them will fit your needs and budget. Some of the more popular ones include NordVPN, Private Internet Access, and SwitchVPN.

Bram Jansen is an online privacy expert. He helps businesses secure their online information

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