A red emergency stop switch on an industrial machine.
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Shopping for a VPN provider can be tricky, so narrowing down your must-have features can help. One of the most important features for anyone concerned about browsing privacy is a VPN kill switch.

What Is a VPN Kill Switch?

A VPN kill switch is a safety measure designed to protect you when a VPN connection disconnects. When you connect to a VPN, all of your internet traffic is funneled through an encrypted connection. Anyone attempting to snoop on you will see obfuscated encrypted data rather than whatever it is you’re doing online.

Since a VPN is a connection like any other, it can fail from time to time. When this happens, whatever device you’re using will default to your standard, unencrypted connection.

When this happens, your real IP address will be exposed since you’re no longer passing internet traffic through a secure intermediary. Any websites that you visit might be logged by your ISP or even by the government, and anything that you’re doing (like downloading files over BitTorrent) could be visible to any parties monitoring your connection.

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A kill switch stops your device from talking to the internet in a manner that might put you at risk. It does this by “killing” any connection to the outside internet that doesn’t go through a VPN.

Why You Want a Kill Switch in Your VPN

Anyone concerned about having their browsing data exposed should look at VPN providers that offer kill switch support. While this sounds inclusive of all VPN users, some are more at risk than others.

For example, if you’re using a VPN to hide your browsing data from authorities in a country where internet traffic is monitored and censored, a kill switch can offer much-needed protection in case your VPN connection fails. This could apply to whistleblowers, confidential informants, or leakers, too.

The vast majority of VPN users aren’t evading oppressive governments but taking precautions to protect their online privacy. These users benefit from the peace of mind that a kill switch affords them if their VPN connection fails.

Failed connections are the main reason to make sure that you’re using a failsafe measure like a kill switch. VPN disconnections can be caused by all sorts of reasons, including network congestion, which VPN protocol you’ve chosen, software crashes, and firewall settings. If your VPN service isn’t particularly reliable, make sure that you have a kill switch for those inevitable connection failures.

Anyone who uses a VPN long-term should be using a kill switch. If your computer is usually connected to the internet via a VPN, even when you aren’t sitting in front of it, a kill switch is vital. The same is true if you’ve connected your router to the VPN directly (so that all of your network traffic is encrypted).

Our Favorite VPN

ExpressVPN

ExpressVPN is our top VPN pick. It’s fast and inexpensive. Many of us at How-To Geek have trusted and used it for years.

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Shopping for a VPN is often a case of trial and error. If you’re encountering frequent disconnections, we recommend trying some of the top-rated VPN providers until you find one that works for you. How-To Geek’s preferred VPN partner ExpressVPN includes a kill switch that the provider calls Network Lock.

Not All VPN Providers Offer a Kill Switch

If you’re using a VPN to protect your online privacy, making sure that you’re using a kill switch adds another layer of protection. Unfortunately, not every VPN provider offers this functionality.

The good news is that many do, including ExpressVPN, Private Internet Access, VyprVPN, IPVanish, and PureVPN. Most services that support the feature will be upfront about it in marketing materials, but a quick internet search should show you for sure.

ExpressVPN Advanced Featured
ExpressVPN

Since many of the largest services now offer the feature, it isn’t something that you should be paying a premium for. It’s also important to understand that just because your VPN provider offers the feature, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s enabled by default.

Enabling Your VPN Kill Switch

To make use of a kill switch, you must first enable it. Not all providers turn this feature on by default since it will stop your internet connection from working at all in the event of a disconnection. For more casual VPN users, this might be overkill.

Using a VPN provider’s own software should make kill switch setup as easy as possible. Some providers, like ExpressVPN, have the feature enabled by default. For others, you will need to dig around in the VPN app’s preferences to ensure that the feature is turned on.

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For example, a PureVPN user on Windows would need to run the PureVPN client with administrator privileges, access the Settings menu, and then dig down into the General menu to enable the “Enable IKS” setting for this to work. If your provider offers the feature, there should be a support document showing you how to use it on their website.

PureVPN IKS

While some service-agnostic VPN clients like OpenVPN can be configured to use a kill switch, there’s a larger margin for error in ensuring that everything is configured correctly.

To connect to a VPN and set up a kill switch, you will need to use software, whether that’s a proprietary app or an open-source solution like OpenVPN. Even though a kill switch is a great idea and something that we should all strive to use, glitches do occur.

Things get a little trickier on mobile, particularly on Apple’s platforms. While NordVPN has implemented a kill switch in the company’s iPhone and iPad app, it only works with the IKEv2 protocol. Android users running version 7.0 or later of the operating system can make use of system-wide kill switch support.

Picking the Best VPN for You

Not everyone has the same needs from a VPN. For some, it’s all about speed, while others use it to access geo-restricted content. Learn how to choose the best VPN for your needs, and make sure that you keep safeguards like a kill switch in mind while coming to your conclusion.

RELATED: How to Choose the Best VPN Service for Your Needs

The Best VPN Services of 2021 for Netflix, Privacy, and More

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ExpressVPN
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Best VPN for Streaming
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Private Internet Access
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NordVPN
Best VPN for Windows
CyberGhost
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Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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