What is a Kill Switch?

Last edited: June 21, 2019
Reading time: 2 minutes, 49 seconds

If you are interested in VPNs or you have read one of our reviews, you might have come across the term “kill switch”. It is often mentioned as one of the advantages a VPN provider might have over other providers. To understand what you’re missing when a VPN provider doesn’t offer one, you can read all about the kill switch down below.

What is a Kill Switch?

Kill Switch OffIn general a kill switch refers to a mechanism that causes a machine to turn off abruptly when something goes wrong. In addition, it is also used to describe a similar emergency stop in software.

If a machine breaks or starts acting up dangerously, the kill switch can be used to shut it down immediately. Most heavy machinery has a switch like this to protect the user. As you might imagine, a kill switch is essential to any machine with drills or saws that might endanger the users if it cannot be controlled. These kill switches often appear as bright red buttons on these machines so they are easy to find. In addition, some vehicles and elevators also have an emergency button that functions as a kill switch. All to guarantee the safety of the user.

A Software Kill Switch

Same as with machines, some software also has a kill switch. For instance, software with sensitive information that governments or the army use. If the software ends up in the hands of unauthorized people, a kill switch can make sure they do not get to see any of the sensitive information. Furthermore, the kill switch can even completely delete the software. This way, sensitive information stays out of the wrong hands. In smartphones it is also used to discourage stealing. Since the kill switch can make the device completely unusable.

Some Windows, Google, and Apple smartphones also have a kill switch to protect the safety of the apps. This means that an app can be stopped automatically, when the phone is infected with harmful software. Consequently, this prevents further infection. Moreover, it removes the harmful software immediately.

Why Do VPNs Have a Kill Switch?

Most people that use a VPN, do so to protect their privacy. This means they want to stay anonymous while they are browsing the internet. If your VPN were to temporarily malfunction, that would mean you are unprotected. Now, this is where the kill switch comes in.

A VPN kill switch ensures that you will never be unprotected online. If your VPN malfunctions while you are browsing, your connection to the internet is temporarily shut down. This means it is impossible for you to go online unprotected. You can see how this works in the picture down below. Some VPN providers have a kill switch but require you to turn it on if you want it to work, while other providers turn it on automatically.

Kill Switch VPN Illustration with hacker

Final Thoughts

A kill switch, or emergency stop, is a useful software feature to protect the user. For VPNs it means that, even when the software malfunctions, your information is safe. As a result you cannot go online unprotected. This means that sites won’t be able to discover your identity. Looking for a VPN with a kill switch? One of the following providers might be able to help you stay safe! You might also want to check out our overview of the best premium VPN providers.

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