What is an internet kill switch and what does it do?

A VPN creates an encrypted connection between the internet and a computer, phone or tablet to improve privacy and security. Many VPNs provide a kill switch, but why would you need one?

Software that uses the internet like web browsers, email, streaming apps, games, messengers and so on, don’t really care how you are connected to the internet. They will use whatever internet connection is available and providing the internet can be reached, they will work.

Open a web browser for example, and go to a website. It uses the default internet connection. Start a VPN and the normal internet connection is replaced by a secure and private encrypted connection. You can continue browsing the web, but now no-one can spy on your activities. Disconnect the VPN and you can continue to browse the web, but now there is a standard internet connection.

Switching from standard internet connection to encrypted VPN one is pretty seamless and you can browse the web with either one. This goes for every other app that uses the internet, like email, messengers, streaming services, apps that access online drives and so on. There is seamless switching from one connection to the other.

Here is the problem: You might not notice when you switch. You start a VPN and create a secure, private internet connection. You browse the web, check your email, message people and so on. For some unknown reason, the VPN disconnects – a glitch like this occasionally happens and you may not notice.

Now you have a standard internet connection with no VPN protection, which means that potentially, someone somewhere could be monitoring your online activities. You would not know because web browsers and other software don’t care about the type of connection and let you carry on browsing the web or doing other things online. You think you are protected, but you are exposed.

What does a VPN kill switch do?

If a VPN client loses its connection to the VPN server for some reason, the kill switch feature prevents all internet access by all apps on the computer, phone or tablet.

Privado VPN internet kill switch
The Kill Switch in Privado VPN

If your VPN has an internet kill switch, you should enable it. If it loses the connection, all internet activity is blocked to prevent apps from leaking information about your online activities. You cannot go to a new website or web page, send messages, fetch email, stream media and so on.

A kill switch is anti-leak protection and it is important. If your VPN does not have a kill switch, get a VPN that does! We have a great list of recommended VPNs here.

Where is the internet kill switch setting?

Privado VPN internet kill switch
Find the Kill Switch in VPN settings

Open the VPN and the kill switch setting may be on the home screen. Most likely though, it will be in the settings or preferences. Every VPN is different, so I can’t say where exactly it is in your VPN, but here is Privado VPN. It is usually easy to find the setting.

What to do when a VPN connection is lost

The first thing you will notice when the VPN connection is lost is that the internet stops working. If you are browsing the web, you will not be able to browse to new sites or pages. This is the kill switch working.

The VPN app may automatically try to reconnect to the VPN server. Open the app and see what it is doing. It may or may not be successful. If it reconnects, there is nothing to do. Just go back to using the internet.

If it does not automatically reconnect, select a different VPN server. VPNs offer multiple countries and sometimes multiple servers within some countries, like several major cities in the US. Just select a different place and connect to it.

Quitting the VPN app will restore the standard internet connection, which may be open, less private and less secure. This is especially true if you are using a public Wi-Fi hotspot. It is less of a problem at home, but your ISP can still see what you are doing.

To maintain privacy, you should quit all apps using the internet before quitting the VPN app, which will disable the kill switch and restore internet access. They can all be restarted afterwards.

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