In the last few years, VPNs have gone from a niche data security tool to an everyday product you’ll see advertised on any vaguely tech-adjacent YouTube channel or podcast. But while there are many viable VPNs available commercially, their feature sets differ, and some are better suited for certain online activities than others.
For example, some VPN services include a feature called a “kill switch.” As the name implies, a VPN kill switch will automatically terminate your internet connection in the event your VPN stops working. This will prevent your ISP, website trackers, government agencies, and anyone else monitoring web traffic from seeing what you’re doing if you suddenly lose the protection of your VPN’s data encryption.
That raises the question: Do you need a VPN kill switch?
Like all things, the answer is “it depends.” Everyone can benefit from a VPN kill switch, but it’s not a requirement for everyone, and there’s a pretty stark delineation between users who definitely need one, and those who probably don’t need to worry about it too much.
High-risk individuals like political activists, journalists, and cybersecurity professionals that use VPNs to hide their online activity should have a kill switch at the ready at all times.
However, a VPN kill switch won’t be necessary for the average person who just uses a VPN to access region-locked Netflix content. But if you live in a country with strict censorship laws or internet restrictions that make accessing blocked content illegal, then you should use a VPN with a kill switch. The same goes for anyone who would hypothetically use a VPN to hide their illegal file-sharing downloads.
Similarly, kill switches are less important for those who primarily connect through secure, private wifi networks in their own homes. But if you’re on open networks that lots of strangers can access — such as those at coffee shops, hotels, or college dorms, and libraries — should have a kill switch. You should also have a kill switch set up if your home router is configured with a VPN.
I guess the bottom line is: If losing your VPN’s encrypted connection — even if just momentarily — puts you at risk in any way, then you should use a VPN with a kill switch.
Luckily, many VPNs have some sort of kill switch available. ExpressVPN is often one of the highest-recommended VPNs with a kill switch, and the feature is enabled by default. Plenty of other VPNs have a kill switch you can enable, including:
- Private Internet Access
- OpenVPN (requires manual configuration)
- Private Internet Access
Whether it’s a kill switch, the ability to hot-swap between proxy servers, or verifying you’re using a no-log VPN, take the time to research each service before buying. Oh and skip the free VPNs — they’re junk.