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Private 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.