VPNs have now become an everyday requirement for many types of internet users including professionals or recreational users who still have concerns about their online security and visibility. This large and growing market-place has meant that there is a wide range of different kinds of VPN services available, all offering a distinct list of features. Today we are going to give you an overview of what a VPN kill switch is, how it works and why you need it as a part of your VPN security.
It is a firewall feature of your VPN software that is generally offered by premium VPN services but may feature among the list of features of more basic VPN services too. Essentially, a VPN kill switch is designed to protect your personal IP’s visibility and accessibility in the event of a loss of connection with your VPN service. It does this by killing some or all of your connections to the internet the moment the VPN services fails.
So, how does a VPN kill switch work?
While it might sound a little archaic and analog in nature, it is really just a set of firewall rules that are programmed into the infrastructure of your VPN software. This can be more or less sophisticated depending on the software itself, with basic kill-switches simply cutting all connection to the internet in the event of a loss of connection to the VPN service, and more advanced kill-switch rules sets allowing you to pick and choose which programs and sites you want to kill the connection to. This can be a handy feature if you rely on certain connections for work and frequently experience drop-offs.
A kill-switch adopts the attitude of a trip wire. Its protocols are constantly monitoring your connection and IP status. The instant it detects a change in the status of your connection, it will immediately prevent your computer from re-connecting to the internet using an open or public IP address.
Why do you need a kill switch?
There are a number of reasons why it can be an essential feature for you as a VPN user.
Reason 1. For work: If you are a professional working remotely, you may already be using a VPN or you may even have been required to do so by your employer if you have one. However, this security won’t mean much if all your information is exposed to the internet every time your connection to the VPN drops. It is likely that your employer (if their IT department knows their stuff) has offered you a VPN software with a kill-switch feature already installed. However, it is a good idea to make sure that this is activated on your computer and that the options have been set up in line with your needs. There are two main types of kill-switch setups to be aware of.
- System-level: A basic protection that simply prevents your computer from reconnecting publicly in the event of a VPN disconnection. Users simply have to ensure it is enabled.
- Application-level: Allows you to select which applications remain active and which should be disconnected. Common choices from automatic disconnections are browsers, video call apps, and email.
Reason 2. For downloaders: Many countries have blanket bans on peer to peer (P2P) downloads of certain content. For this reason, many choose to use a VPN to protect their download activity. However, if your VPN connection drops and your computer reverts to a public connection that exposes this activity, it can often be enough to result in a prosecution.
Reason 3. General online security: While many internet-users remain largely oblivious to the potential dangers of an unprotected internet connection, more and more are slowly waking up to the extent of the threat. The reality is that identity and personal information theft are an everyday occurrence and hackers are consistently coming up with more and more sophisticated ways of carrying these activities out. While a VPN drop offers a fairly minimal window of time for hackers to get at your information, this can often be enough for many types of professional hackers using automated bots. A VPN kill switch allows you to close the shutters on these guys completely.