AVG Signal Blog Privacy VPN VPN Kill Switch: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Written by Oliver Buxton
Published on November 19, 2021

What is a VPN Kill Switch?

A VPN kill switch automatically disconnects your device from the internet if you lose your VPN connection. Whenever your VPN drops, a kill switch prevents unsecured internet connections until your VPN connection returns, ensuring your data and privacy remain protected.

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    Even the best networks aren’t immune to outages that can leave your personal information vulnerable, but VPNs with a kill switch feature keep your IP address hidden and your data private, even when connectivity drops. That way, a VPN kill switch provides an extra layer of protection when using a VPN.

    VPNs offer great benefits, letting you surf the web safely and securely — but even a momentary connection lapse to the private network has the potential to unmask your identity. That’s why a backstop that instantaneously kicks in the moment your VPN goes down is so important for maintaining your privacy online.

    Also known as connection kill switches, network locks, or network kill switches, VPN kill switches are features of VPNs that provide a powerful last line of defense to ensure anonymity in the event of private network failure.

    A VPN kill switch automatically disconnects your device from the internet when your VPN drops.A VPN kill switch automatically disconnects your device from the internet if your VPN connection fails, protecting your privacy and blocking unsecured connections.

    How does a VPN kill switch work?

    VPN kill switches act as a failsafe by completely disconnecting your device from the internet whenever your VPN connection is down. When your connection is restored, the kill switch reverses itself to hook you back up immediately — often before you’ve even noticed a thing.

    Here are the four main processes that determine how VPN kill switches work:

    1. Scanning: A VPN kill switch analyses your connection to the VPN server in real-time by scanning for changes in your network status or IP address.

    2. Detecting: Any disruption to your VPN connection is instantly detected by the kill switch feature.

    3. Blocking: The VPN either disconnects your entire device from the internet, or just blocks certain applications, depending on your VPN service and its settings.

    4. Reconnecting: The moment your VPN connection returns, the VPN app’s kill switch disengages, automatically restoring your connection.

    What are the two types of VPN kill switch?

    There are two types of VPN kill switches, each using different protocols: the Active Kill Switch Protocol and the Passive Kill Switch Protocol. Perhaps surprisingly in the context of internet security, VPNs using the Passive Kill Switch Protocol are actually more secure because they can shut down unencrypted connections faster.

    Active Kill Switch Protocols

    An Active Kill Switch Protocol detects disruption to your VPN by actively interrogating the network. When a connection issue is identified, the kill switch shares that information with your device, preventing unsecured connections to the internet.

    Passive Kill Switch Protocols

    Rather than waiting for information from the network, Passive Kill Switch Protocols shut down your VPN connection immediately once the signal from the VPN server is lost. This means less data is shared via your public IP address and less chance that your privacy will be compromised.

    Why do you need a VPN kill switch?

    You need a VPN kill switch to ensure the integrity of secured connections in the event of network failure. If you’re hooked up to a network without a kill switch and the connection drops, which can happen, your device reverts back to its default public IP address, unmasking your digital identity and putting your privacy at risk.

    Since no private network connection is 100% reliable, actively preventing unsecured internet connections is the only surefire way to protect your anonymity and stop your online activity from being tracked. Using a VPN kill switch does precisely that, shielding and encrypting your sensitive data and keeping your IP address hidden.

    What causes a VPN connection to drop out?

    Most VPNs maintain stable, reliable connections the vast majority of the time. But unfortunately all networks experience disruption occasionally, and all it takes is for the mask to slip just once to compromise your online safety and privacy.

    Here are the most common reasons for VPN kill switches to kick in and keep you covered:

    • Firewall or router settings: Your internet router or antivirus software installed on your machine may interfere with your VPN, causing the connection to drop. Checking your preferences and settings may help, but nothing beats the safety-net of a VPN kill switch.

    • Start up: If your machine starts up without an active VPN, it can’t establish a secure connection. But a kill switch will still engage to prevent risky, unsecured internet connections.

    • Signal strength: Any connection is only as strong as the signal maintaining it, so weak Wi-Fi — due to interference or distance from the router — can disrupt your VPN connection.

    • Network congestion: Internet connections that are overburdened by heavy usage can result in ISP throttling, making your Wi-Fi connection choppy and destabilising your VPN. This is a particularly common problem on public Wi-Fi networks where you’re the most exposed without a VPN.

    Are kill switches on by default?

    You’ll often need to activate your VPN kill switch via the settings of your VPN app — the feature may not be automatically enabled. Advanced VPN apps often have a configurable kill switch that can either disconnect your entire device, or just certain programs or applications. So even if the kill switch is on by default, it’s important to customize the kill switch settings to suit your privacy and security needs.

    AVG Secure VPN has an advanced kill switch to make sure your privacy is intact in case your network connection ever dropsAVG Secure VPN’s kill switch feature ensures your browsing never gets exposed.

    Protect your privacy with AVG Secure VPN

    If you’re using a VPN to protect your privacy and anonymity, you can’t afford to leak any unencrypted data via your internet connection. Just one lapse in your private network connection can unmask your IP address, expose your personal data, and allow your online activities to be tracked.

    AVG Secure VPN doesn’t cut corners when it comes to privacy and security. With one of the most reliable networks in the game, military-grade encryption, and a responsive kill switch that instantly turns on if your connection ever drops out, AVG ensures your privacy stays protected at all times.

    Get a kill switch to protect your privacy with AVG Secure VPN

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    Oliver Buxton