Which VPNs have a VPN Kill Switch (and how to use it)

How to use your VPN Kill Switch

VPN Kill-Switch is a critical piece of your VPN security solution, and should be considered an essential feature of any torrent-friendly VPN.

Also known as an Internet Kill Switch, this simple feature will make sure that your true IP address is never exposed online in the event of a dropped VPN connection.

A kill switch is especially important for BitTorrent users and frequent torrent downloaders, because you definitely don’t want your IP address and location exposed to the torrent swarm.

Anonymity and safety is the reason you’re looking for a VPN in the first place, so don’t let a dropped connection leave you vulnerable.

WHAT IS A VPN KILL SWITCH?

VPN Kill Switch Enabled (IPVanish VPN)
Kill-Switch enabled in IPVanish VPN’s Software

The Kill-Switch is a feature designed to make sure your never transmit sensitive data or leak your real IP address in case the VPN connection drops unexpectedly.

When enabled, a kill-switch will instantly kill your internet connection in the event the VPN connection fails or disconnects. (Optionally, some VPNs have an app-level kill switch that will shut specific sensitive apps instead of your entire internet connection).

If you didn’t have this feature enabled, your computer will automatically connect to the internet through your normal connection (via your ISP) and expose your true computer location to all websites and protocols you are accessing at the time (BAD).

HOW DOES A VPN KILL-SWITCH WORK?

There are actually 2 types of kill-switches commonly built into VPN software:

  1. Internet Kill Switch: Kills internet access to the entire device
  2. App Kill Switch: Closes certain apps or programs when triggered

Internet Kill Switch

The most common type (and most effective) is the Internet Kill Switch

This Kill-Switch is like a tripwire that is constantly monitoring your internet connection for any change in status or IP Address. If it detects any such change (for example if your vpn connection drops) it will instantly block your computer from connecting to the internet until the VPN connection is reestablished or you have closed the vpn software.

It can react virtually instantly, block your internet connection before your computer has a change to reconnect to the internet outside of your secure VPN tunnel.

Important Note: If the switch is triggered, you won’t have internet access until you either:

  1. re-connect to the VPN
  2. or reset your network adapter

For more information, read kill-switch troubleshooting

Why I prefer this type of kill-switch: It’s simpler and has fewer ways for something to go wrong. It reacts quickly and reliably.

Application / Software Kill-Switch

App Kill Switch (NordVPN)
NordVPN has an App-level Kill Switch in addition to an Internet Kill Switch

Instead of shutting of your internet, an app kill-switch lets you choose a list of programs or running processes to kill if the switch is triggered. These apps will then be closed quickly (though not always instantly).

Pros: You don’t have to reset your network adapter to regain internet access, and it only affects programs you specify.

Cons: It takes a little while to close multiple apps (often less than 1 second) but it’s not instantaneous.

VPN Providers that offer an Application Kill Switch:

HOW DO I KNOW IF MY VPN HAS A KILL SWITCH BUILT IN?

It can be tricky to figure out which VPN’s offer this feature without trying their software out first. Even more confusing is that each VPN Provider has their own name for Kill-Switch Technology.

You can often find this information out by reading the VPNs FAQ or reading through their features, but some of VPN’s advertise the kill-switch technology more heavily than others. Fortunately we have made a pretty comprehensive list of the best VPN’s with kill-switch technology as well as their proprietary name for the technology (when applicable)

ROLL YOUR OWN KILL-SWITCH WITH VPN NETMON

If your VPN provider doesn’t offer a kill-switch in their software, you can make your own with the help of some free software.

Built in solutions are nice, but usually just killing your internet connection isn’t the optimal solution. The truth is, you really just want to make sure certain applications don’t disclose your true IP (for example uTorrent). There’s an easy free solution!

VPNNetMon is a freeware program that will automatically close specific programs if it detects a change in your IP address. Basically, you just tell the program what IP address is associated with your VPN. Then, you open the sensitive programs from within the VPN NetMon interface. If the VPN fails, VPN NetMon will instantly close all the programs you have chosen. This is great because you don’t lose total internet connectivity, you just keep your sensitive software hidden and anonymous.

The software can even autodial your VPN for you (using PPTP or L2TP).

VPN Watcher is another good free option. They offer an unlimited free trial or 2 paid options ($10-$20) for more features like 99ms monitoring and option to suspend rather than close programs.

We really liked VPN watcher’s interface and the program seems to be updated more regularly than VPNNetmon. The paid version also comes with premium support if you have any technical issues.

Troubleshooting your Kill-Switch

There are a few situations that happen often when using a kill-switch and we get lots of questions about them. So here’s a step-by-step guide on how to fix common issues:

#1 – I can’t access the internet

If your VPN uses an internet kill-switch, it’s going to shut down internet access to your entire computer. Some VPNs even engage the switch if you disconnect on purpose (not just accidentally). If you forgot that you had the kill-switch turned on, it can sometimes take a while to figure out the cause.

There are two ways to restore internet access:

1. Reconnect to the VPN

This is the easiest way and the fastest. Simply click the ‘Connect’ button in your VPN software and you should be back online as soon as a secure connection is established.

2. Reset your Network Adapter (Windows instructions).

How to reset your network adapter:

  1. Right click on your wifi/internet icon in the system tray
  2. Choose ‘Troubleshoot Problems’ from the menu
  3. Follow the windows prompts to reset the adapter
System tray wifi icon
1. Right-click the ‘Internet/Wifi’ Icon
Troubleshoot network problems
2. Click ‘Troubleshoot problems’
Windows Network Diagnostics
3. Follow the prompts from Windows Diagnostics to repair your internet access

#2 – The App Kill-Switch doesn’t work

If the apps you specified aren’t being closed when the kill-switch triggers, here are a couple things to try:

  • Make sure the app kill-switch is active, and the programs have been selected
  • Make sure you run the VPN app ‘As Administrator’

Final Thoughts

A kill-switch is an indispensable VPN security tool, and one that I use on a daily basis. If you use a VPN to download torrents, you should definitely keep your kill-switch active, because IP address leakage is the #1 way torrents are monitored.

If choosing a VPN provider, we recommend ones that use a system/internet kill-switch as it’s slightly more reliable than the app-level version.

One Note: Most mobile VPNs (especially on Android) tend to have an application kill-switch instead of an internet switch. This is due to the way Android app permissions work, and it’s actually more secure than the Windows counterpart.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up below!

David Barnes

David started torrenting before it was cool. He enjoys hiking, strategy games and eats watermelon year round. He still rocks his Napster t-shirt once a month.

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