Private Internet Access Review

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piaPrivate Internet Access  was founded back in 2010 by London Trust Media, Inc., a company based out of the US. Before they began providing VPN services, they claim to have had an inside look at how large corporations in marketing, advertising and other sectors engaged in massive personal consumer data mining, and how intimate that data was. The issue became personal, and this propelled their team to bring forth a product that would best protect everyday web users from having their personal information tracked and collected through online activity. Commendably, Private Internet Access values the privacy and security of society as a need for prosperity and diversity, and have upheld a strong no log policy. PIA has become one of the most popular VPN providers in the world by offering affordable yearly plans that regularly attract new users. But does Private Internet Access make the cut as a premium service? Is the performance really good? And should you trust a VPN company based out of the US? Let’s get all of those answers through the following in-depth review of the service.

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Security and Privacy

Private Internet Access has an outstanding record of trust. They have a no log policy that is simple, no logs, zero. They back that policy up with a legal court document that confirms that no logs whatsoever are kept by the company. PIA’s motto and motive if honest, is to protect the privacy of every citizen. In the last few years, lots of claims have been made that VPN companies based in the US, or any other Five Eyes Alliance country could not be trusted, because legal courts have the power to subpoena a VPN company and force them to log user activity. However, what’s unfortunate is that only part of that holds true, and what’s worse is that we have seen overseas providers supposedly located in secure locations, still end up cooperating with Five Eyes based authorities in criminal cases!

So let’s start with the question of trusting US based VPN companies. The US is actually far from the worst country for human rights, privacy, and online freedom. There are currently no data retention laws in the United States. PIA is not obliged to log anything, but more importantly, if it ever came to a scenario where authorities would request or force them to do so, they have already stated that they would simply opt to shut down all operations and servers in that country, rather than do the wrong thing. We have seen such a situation before when Lavabit chose to shut down its’ lucrative encrypted email service after almost 10 years of service, over giving up their private keys to the U.S. federal authorities who wanted access Edward Snowden’s emails. And now that we have witnessed overseas providers give up subscriber info more than once before, the bottom line is that no matter what company you go with, you are ultimately trusting that VPN company and their centralized authority. In this case, I trust Private Internet Access more than the vast majority of providers out there, since we’ve never witnessed them engage in any type of dishonest shady practices, and on contrary, have witnessed them work hard to continually develop their protection for users.

PIA has kept their apps up-to-date and secured against the latest bugs, exploits and flaws that have concerned VPN users. The client includes a killswitch under the Privacy menu to avoid any data leaks in case the VPN connection drops. The killswitch is turned on auto by default, so users don’t have to worry about turning the setting on. You can also switch it to always, causing traffic to be blocked without an active VPN connection even if the client is closed. PIA Mace is a built-in ad, tracking and malware blocker that will essentially block all ads, related tracking and even malware you might encounter when browsing websites.  PIA DNS servers are selected by default, essentially providing DNS leak protection. From this Network menu, it’s also possible to set port forward configurations if needed.

 

The service has also kept up with the latest advancement in connection protocols. Although you can still use obsolete options such as PPTP and L2TP in cases where you’re stuck with limited or older hardware, the client provides secure OpenVPN encryption using the latest AES-128-GCM encryption. This is not to be confused with AES-128-CBC which is no longer considered secure. With CBC, a minimum of 256-bit encryption is required to be truly secure. However, you can still increase to 256-bit-GCM or CBC through the Connection Preferences menu of the app. The service uses RSA-2048 bit keys by default, and can be increased to 4096 bit keys.

 

IP and DNS Leak Test

Private Internet Access has passed all the IP, DNS and WebRTC IP leak tests I have thrown at its’ servers. Tests across almost all locations have been done over a long period of time, and not once have I detected any leaks. The seldom occasion when a VPN server disconnected, the kills witch acted as it should have, and disabled all traffic through my networked device. All tests have been carried out using PIA’s client, and not any custom or manual configurations using different software.

Features

For a long time, Private Internet Access had a rather basic software app. The client didn’t provide much information, and had a very simple interface. As of now, many changes have been made to make it a little more interesting, and a little more useful. For starters, users can customize the look between dark or light, as well as which sections of data they wish to have displayed or hidden, such as bandwidth meters, graphs, shortcuts, or usage, by simply bookmarking the sections in the order of their choice. I had fun quickly trying out different layouts, but more importantly, it only took a few seconds of my time to try different configurations until I found one that pleased me. The app remains simple to use, but now provides a better overview of the connection with more data and a refined graphical interface.

 

The service coverage has steadily grown and now counts more than 3300 servers in over 50 regions across 33 different countries. The client doesn’t actually list 3300 server as most of them are combined gateways for load capacity. Instead every country and city is listed with a ping response time to help select the fastest available servers around. Beyond the Quick Connect option which automatically selects the fastest server available in the country of choice, no other options are available on the servers list. At least the ping time is included, and that’s the most important as a guiding stat for finding the best server for your location. Although adequate, it would have been nice to have a little more information on the server list, but I’m not sure it would actually be useful. What it does lack is a server selection for countries like Iran or China, where standard VPN protocols are blocked. At this time, PIA unfortunately does not have a solution for China or similar countries unless opting to use L2TP.

 

 

Private Internet Access is also notably P2P friendly on all servers. Instead of blocking P2P traffic on any of their server, they have opted to re-route Bittorrent traffic through a second VPN in torrent friendly regions. This essentially becomes a double VPN connection on Torrent ports only, without affecting browsing or streaming speeds. This means is that Private Internet Access still remains a safe and popular option for torrents. However, it should be known that some of these ports might be shared by other applications such as VoIP or online gaming. If you have any questions, contact support and they can help determine if any of the ports you plan on using need to be changed to avoid this double VPN route.

Speed tests were also good, attaining respectable speeds with torrent downloads, and overall good performance across many different server locations. As expected, some locations performed worse than others depending on distance, but I remained pleased with my  latest string of testing considering that I upped the encryption to 256-bit-GCM with 4096-bit keys. When using the default 128-bit-GCM and and 2048-bit keys, I was able to attain even faster speeds on download tests. Private Internet Access is not the fastest VPN provider I have tested, but it’s far from being slow or sluggish. This mileage can vary depending on where you are located, or which servers you need to utilize.

Netflix and Streaming Test

Streaming is also a popular use for PIA subscribers, and as of my latest tests, it’s still a great option to unblock geographically restricted websites. I was able to access US Netflix, Hulu, and UK BBC One without detection. Keep in mind that some services will use cookies from gmail accounts and other online accounts to identify you, so if you remain blocked, try to clear your cache and cookie history, as well as log out of free email accounts. As mentioned, bandwidth loss was not too great, allowing for high definition streaming without glitch.

Pricing

Private Internet Access offers a total of 3 plan options, respectively Monthly, Two-Year, or Yearly. All plans allow up to 5 simultaneous device connections to be used. This, additionally to low prices, makes Private Internet Access one of the cheapest VPN services available. The monthly package costs $6.95, and is a good option if you only need a temporary VPN, or to simply test out the service. However, a 7-day money back guarantee refund policy is offered with all of the plans, so you can always change your mind. The Yearly Package at $39.95 is one of the best deals you can get from any VPN service provider on the market today. But if you’ve already tested the service out, and wish to save a few more dollars, the Two Year plan brings the cost down to $2.91 a month. That’s less than the price of a cup of coffee at most shops nowadays, and certainly makes the service accessible and affordable to a much wider audience. Privacy shouldn’t have to be cost prohibitive. Kudos to PIA for providing an affordable VPN with a premium level of service. Users can also pay using crypto-currency for superior payment privacy.

 

 

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Customer Service

The website includes lots of tutorials and guides to help you setup your VPN on a wide variety of hardware devices, and the knowledge base includes very specific and varied FAQs and questions users might face. Customer service at PIA is available through email 24/7. Response time can be fast to slow at times according to peer user reviews, but this is to be expected when using a provider that serves a large number of subscribers for a very low rate. The company still does a good job of attempting to help any type of query, but VPNs are often simple to use and problems are rare.

Conclusion

To this day, Private Internet Access has done a great job of remaining a top contender in the VPN realm. They have stayed true to their privacy and security values, and continued to offer some of the most affordable plans available on the market.  What is a little more impressive, is that the service remains great. Not the best speeds I have seen, but still good. Not the largest selection of servers, but still a complete global coverage. It looks and works like a premium VPN, and therefore in conclusion, I still highly rate Private Internet Access as one of the best value VPN services you can opt for. Unless you’re looking for top speeds, DPI protected servers for China, or advanced features offered elsewhere, PIA is worth a try, and if you’re not satisfied, remember to ask for a refund within 7 days and their team will oblige.

18 Comments

  1. They completely load your computer with spyware and screwed up my computer. Never got any help from support and no refund.

  2. I’ve been wondering whether this company has been running a scam site. I paid for 1 year’s subscription. Could not log onto the site or get the application to work at all. I tried to contact the company via the chat session as though I was wanting to sign up again because that was the only way I could communicate with the service but the application kept cutting off and I was never offered my money back in effect I’m feeling as though I’ve been robbed/scammed as there was nothing genuine about my attempted interaction with this service.

  3. Paid for a month trial $6.95. Never got the login and the password to log in and try the VPN service. After 3 emails and 2 chats on their support web site, issue still not solved; I still did not receive the welcome email with login instructions. I finally asked for a refund and did not get a confirmation of my refund.

  4. Version 56, the most recent version, of their VPN software automatically turns off the firewall in Yosmite 10.10.1. It doesn’t give any warning and it doesn’t tell the user that it is doing it, but if you check you will see that this is what it is doing. I don’t know very much about this, but i spoke to technical support who gave me information that it is some kind of temporary glitch that they hope to fix in the next version…but is this a huge huge concern or not really?? I’m not sure?

  5. My internet connection runs around 170mbps and using there service I was getting 12mbpsm so I contacted customer service and after a number of tweaks we still only realized 16mbps.

    I understand that many people operate at these levels of connectivity. I could not tolerate such a degradation of my connection so by day 3 of the 7 day trial period I requested a refund and cancelled my account.

    I am yet to receive a refund and have had to move the dispute in PayPal to a claim. I was influenced by the many good reviews but for me it did not provide what I need. A 90% hit on my connection was too much.

    They may prove the bees knees for you but my experience has been less than excellent.

    1. This is a very serious accusation.

      Prove it and give source, otherwise FUD.

      Used them for a couple of years now, never had a problem, never felt unsecure.

  6. I am using this service, but thry do not have anything for my Netgear R 6300 v2.
    I canot conect to my Ethernet going from At&t Ethernet p[ort than to ny Netgear router to my mac. they suggested Tamato but it does not show my router, suggestions

  7. this is the worse vpn i ever used , it does Not support on game console .when i wanted my refund on a same day , they refused and worse is that this application despite off doesnt even connect in my system.

    1. Hi Avishek,

      Sorry to hear that, PIA is one of my favorite providers simply based on price, and hence why I still use it as my daily driver VPN. With this said, no VPN supports gaming consoles and no console has OpenVPN or VPN protocol support to connect to external servers. Therefore you must apply different techniques to share the VPN connection on your network and to your console.

      I wrote a full guide on how to do it here: https://vpnpick.com/setup-vpn-xbox-one-playstation-4/

      That should help you figure out exactly the best way for you to share the VPN on consoles, and I highly suggest to use a router for it. Sometimes it is best to have a second network router behind a switch, this way you can have both open and secure networks running simultaneously. And with this setup, all VPN providers will provide support for router configuration.

      You can also opt for a service like ExpressVPN, which costs more, but they include SmartDNS with full setup guides on consoles, just keep in mind that this will not encrypt the connection whatsoever, but just change your DNS automatically for any region you try to access.

  8. I have been looking for a secure (non-logging) VPN service for a few weeks now, and worry about sites in the US, Canada and EU, as Gov regulations have changed lately, making VPN companies more open to government scrutiny and capabilities in collecting logs, etc. (NSA, Patriot Act, Bill c51, DRD, MPAA, DCMA) Many of the articles that I have read suggest sites that are located outside the US, Canada and EU less susceptible to Gov regulation.
    website bestvpn has some good articles pertaining to VPN issues and sites.
    Thoughts?

    1. PIA is quite clear about this: they chose to operate in the US specifically because we are one of the few countries left that DOESN’T have a mandatory data-retention law, which would require ISPs (including VPN proxy services) to keep logs of network activity. While some other countries have stricter standards on what constitutes reasonable suspicion for a subpoena/warrant and thus in some ways better privacy protection (as well as less-shady domestic spying systems), you’re necessarily going to be somewhat less secure with services from most other countries because your provider will be required to log your traffic such that if someone does come after you, there will actually be something for them to find. In the US, it’s comparatively easy for e.g. law enforcement to force a company like PIA to hand over whatever data they have, but since they don’t have to (and don’t) retain any data beyond billing information (which can be anonymous) and short-term information for diagnostics, they don’t actually HAVE anything to turn over.

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