Private Internet Access VPN Overview
Anyone who is familiar with a VPN network or has at least used a couple will be familiar with Private Internet Access or PIA as it is called. Founded in 2010, the VPN provider offers people the opportunity to protect (protection) their online activities from snooping eyes via their virtual private network (VPN).
The Colorado-based Private Internet Access is a VPN provider run by the London Trust Media, Inc. The words London and Colorado don’t exactly help establish confidence amongst people who are familiar with the fact that both the US and UK are part of an intelligence-sharing pact called the Five Eyes.
What does this mean? Well in layman’s terms if you happen to do something which is deemed illegal or even unethical using the best VPN network service, the government can subpoena the records of the VPN network service provider. Then if you happen to be living in any one of these countries with whom there is a Five Eyes network pact you can be arrested.
Now before you give up on Private Internet Access as the provider of your choice, we should add that PIA manages to evade the alliance as it does by not storing any customer data, plus they can prove it. In our years of reviewing the best VPN network services, we have not come across one that can prove they don’t store user data.
While this Private Internet Access review does not go over exactly why the Private Internet Access chooses to be so transparent because we honestly don’t know, but they do have what’s called a transparency report. You can find the transparency report on their website, and it shows just how many court orders they have received.
All the above considered, the thing everyone is most interested in and the reason why we wrote this Private Internet Access VPN review is to find out if all that work they have put it translates to good service. Also as of late, Private Internet Access has added a couple of new features which we’ll discuss in this article, so make sure that you read it till the end.
Private Internet Access Pros
All the best VPN network services even the best VPN have their fair share of features, but not all of them are necessarily pros. PIA too offers users a bunch of features, but unfortunately, they aren’t all pros.
Many features can be found on competing products. However, below we list just the pros from a user’s perspective.
We don’t usually expect even the best VPN network services to provide excellent speeds, even if they are charging top dollar but London Trust Media has surprised us.
We put the speeds that the service had to offer for this Private Internet Access review, by connecting to most of their servers in Europe, America, Australia, and Asia, since these are the most used ones. We linked to each server at random but did so 4x times to average out the speeds.
Internet speeds were checked using good old speedcheck.net. We also made sure to check the location of each server to ensure that it was in the area it said it was, after all, it is London Trust Media we are dealing with here! You will find more details about the speed tests we conducted and the speeds we got below.
Private Internet Access Claims and Proves No-logging
In this Private Internet Access VPN review like many other VPN network service VPN providers claims a no-logging policy. In most cases, we are inclined to believe the VPN provider if they have a good reputation.
However, for a VPN provider with a name like London Trust Media, and is based in Colorado makes it hard for us to trust. That said PIA proves that the VPN provider maintains no logs.
PIA publishes what it calls a transparency report which proves that the VPN provider stores nothing except for perhaps users’ email addresses, and payment information ensuring ultimate privacy.
The numerous Subpoena cited in the transparency report proves that the US government has tried but failed to get anything from PIA because they don’t store anything worth giving to the government!
Strong Privacy Protection and Protocols
Everyone who has read our VPN network reviews knows that we highly appreciate VPN services that take privacy and protection seriously. The tighter the encryption, the happier it makes us, and in this regard, PIA VPN network protection has made us very happy indeed!
The best VPN PIA protection uses open source, OpenVPN which is an industry-standard for a secure VPN tunnel. However, users are offered a couple of different options which gives them the freedom to choose how much encryption they require for a session.
Users are provided with three default options, i.e., handshake, data encryption, and data authentication. Data encryption as the term suggests is a symmetric cipher algorithm that is used to decrypt and encrypt data.
AES 128-bit connection running in CBC mode is by far the fastest encryption, mainly because it uses lower standards. You can also choose AES 256-bit CBC for better security or even choose not to use encryption which as you’d guess is the fastest.
Using encryption means that your IP address, for the most part, is hidden, and so are all your log-in details. But data is exposed! That’s where you use data authentication which helps to prevent data attacks. If you aren’t too worried about such attacks it is easy to turn off data authentication, but we rather keep it on, just in case!
PIA VPN uses the best VPN network protection i.e. SHA1 which is the fastest way to authenticate your connection; it uses what’s called a Secure Hash Algorithm. More security can be had with SHA256.
We love PIA VPN in this review because it uses Handshake Encryption which uses a secret key known only by the server and your computer. The key is used to establish a very secure connection. You have six possible keys from which to choose, i.e., RSA 3072, ECC 521, RSA 2048, ECC 256k1, ECC-256rl and RSA 4096.
You can also use ECC or Elliptic curve Cryptography though we wouldn’t. We have been hearing that the NSA has the ability to crack specific keys, but since it is not proven they are still available. Yet by using them, there is an inherent risk.
Finally, their privacy is rounded off with the implementation of leak protection. Using leak protection prevents data from leaking in the event of a disconnection from the VPN server.
Private Internet Access Cons
PIA, even the best VPN connection using an encrypted IP address does have a couple of cons that everyone should be aware of before buying including those living in Canada. The good news is that these cons are not deal breakers!
A Complex Interface
When we mention a complex interface, it does not mean that using it is difficult. Even if you are new to using the best VPNs for the privacy of your IP address and security, PIA, one-click, secure VPN makes it easy.
As soon as you boot the app you click on the ‘power’ button in the center, and it connects you to a VPN in Canada but beyond that things aren’t so simple.
Tweaking the various settings like leak protection requires you to dive into the setting menu. The sheer number of settings and sub-settings makes it challenging to find what you want. Plus, the tooltips aren’t too helpful either.
If they are one thing they should do with future updates is to provide helpful tooltips for each one of their options in the settings menu. That said the settings are no place for a newbie, so unless you know what you’re doing there is no reason to be there in the first place.
No Free Plan
As someone living in Canada, I know people want to use a VPN protection that has a free plan and allows them to poke around the software before they buy it.
Unfortunately, there are no freebies here, and that means the only way people are going to find out if they like the VPN is by buying it. Fortunately, PIA VPN is relatively cheap, so you won’t be breaking the bank or maybe breaking into it to buy it! We will talk about pricing more a little later below.
Private Internet Access Features
Private Internet Access VPN’s connection protection has a couple of stand out features which are worth mentioning. However, some of these features can be found with other VPN services. Nevertheless, PIA VPN’s implementation of the features is in our opinion the best which why we are mentioning them below.
One of the somewhat weird things about Private Internet Access VPN is that there is no mention of them supporting P2P connection or torrenting as a feature.
They don’t talk much about it perhaps because P2P is often used by pirates and they don’t want to be seen as alluding to maybe the VPN provider supporting piracy. That said the torrent speeds we got when connected to a PIA VPN server were excellent.
The good news is that the service does not restrict torrents, or keep any records of the connection. So, you can download anything without the fear of your internet account being blocked, or throttled.
Users in Canada are often sent a legal notice if the ISP finds that illegal movies have been downloaded for instance. Though by using PIA it is possible to avoid it but we wouldn’t advise that you do.
Malware Blocking (MACE)
MACE, as it is called by PIA VPN, is a straightforward yet effective DNS based website filtering service that automatically blocks all domains which are associated with malware, trackers, and advertisements offering great protection. We admit that the system isn’t sophisticated; for instance, you don’t get a traffic analysis or any injected SSL certificate protection.
MACE has a blacklist of all the dangerous domains which are periodically updated when tested MACE worked 90% of the time blocking websites which were malicious.
When it comes to advertisements, MACE was able to block most pop-ups and other forms of advertising on most websites we visited. Admittedly it isn’t as good as specialized software designed to block ads, but it does the job better than competing VPN services which is worth mentioning.
PIA VPN protection tends to solve one of the most significant problems with using VPN services, i.e., switching in between a regular application and a VPN client connection.
So, similar to NordVPN, and ExpressVPN, PIA offers browser extensions for Opera, Chrome, and Firefox. Using the extension, you can connect directly to a VPN without having to leave the browser window.
Firefox and Chrome extensions have the same interface which is clean and simple. You have a ‘connect’ button that connects you to a location displayed to the right. There is also a list of locations, and you can choose from any one of your favorites. Also, if you want (turn it on), it displays latencies for each server.
Plus, it helps stop WebRTC leaks, by default disables third-party cookies, hyperlink auditing, etc. That said the only drawback is that some websites will not work with all these features turned on so you’ll need to go back into security settings and toggle each one ‘on’ or ‘off’ and refresh your page.
Another great sub-feature of the add-ons for leading browsers is the Bypass list which further strengthens privacy. You can add a bunch of websites that you don’t want to use the VPN. For instance, you wouldn’t want Gmail to use the VPN, so you add it to the Bypass List, whereas all other browser windows will use the VPN.
Private Internet Access Pricing & Plans
PIA’s VPN service pricing is pretty straight forward, and you can pay via credit card, bitcoin, etc. While they don’t have a free plan, the basic monthly package is comparatively cheap. However, you’ll want to get the two-year plan which happens to be the lowest priced.
• Monthly: $6.95
• 6 Months: $5.99 ($35.95/six-months)
• One Year: $2.85 ($39.95 per year)
Private Internet Access Speed Test
We are based in Canada, and so one of the things we did was to check the latency across all of the VPN service servers. As expected the further a server was from us the more latency we saw.
So, the latency was lower when connecting to a server in the US as compared to one in Germany or Japan for that reason. That said compared to competing VPN services it was still low.
All servers were tested after we connected to them using Speedtest.net. We also disconnected and then reconnected to another server in the same region 4x times and averaged out the results. What you see below is the percentage value of the average results.
When connected to servers in the UK we saw an average dip of 20% in our connection speed, which is amongst the best we’ve seen. Interestingly, when connected to servers in other parts of Europe like Germany, and Italy, the speeds were 25% lower.
As mentioned above US servers were amongst the fastest for us, as there was a mere 10% drop in speed for the most part. However, we noted during testing that some US servers were slower than others.
When connected to Australian servers and those in Hong Kong, the speeds were on average 40% lower. Its something to be expected, though what we didn’t expect that the speeds we got in both Asia (Hong Kong) and Australia were similar. So, identical that we lumped them into an average 40% decrease in speed.
Private Internet Access Servers
Private Internet Access VPN has increased their number of privacy servers to a whopping 12945+. That’s a huge increase from what they previously had and is a welcome addition.
Does Private Internet Access Work With Netflix?
One of the reasons to use a VPN service apart from privacy is to access otherwise geo-locked or blocked websites. Of particular interest to our readers and ourselves of course is Netflix. So, the question is can you unblock Netflix and stream otherwise geo-locked content by changing your IP address? Yes with PIA VPN you can stream because it changes your IP address.
While Private Internet Access VPN can easily unlock other streaming websites like YouTube and BBC iPlayer, Netflix is particularly challenging. Netflix actively finds and blocks IP addresses that appear to be VPNs. So, the vast majority of premium VPN services aren’t able to unblock Netflix.
The old version of Private Internet Access VPN with a comparatively limited number of servers made it near impossible to find one that could stream from Netflix. But the newer servers added on January 2019, have made things a lot easier.
In our experience, one out of every four servers was able to connect and stream from Netflix. That’s pretty good compared to the competition. So, if you’re getting a VPN to stream Netflix, your money is well spent on a PIA subscription.
Private Internet Access Privacy & Logs
The transparency report on their website clearly shows the number of subpoenas and court orders they have received which have turned up nothing. That proves they have a strict logging policy. We know of no other service which offers this level of openness about their no-logging policy for IP address.
Private Internet Access Support
Support for PIA is pretty polished on the whole with a professional area of the website with a lot of useful content. You have a knowledge base of 164 articles which covers everything from account problems, technical issues, and troubleshooting, etc.
Apart from articles and tutorials if you need help, it is possible to use the Contact Us page which sends an email to PIA’s support department. Alternatively, it is also possible to open up a ticket which in our experience gets a response within 24 hours.
Private Internet Access VPN recently added a Live Chat option which is available from the Customer Control Panel. The Live Chat is open from 9:00 to 18:00, Mountain time from Monday to Friday. Live Chat is by far the best way to get in touch with a support person to address a problem.
Private Internet Access Refund Policy
Private Internet Access PIA offers a 30-day refund policy which is made easier if you have a credit card. That means if you’re not happy with the service you can ask for a refund within 30 days after which the money is sent back to your credit card.
However, it will require that you email their billing department with your registered email address and the 7-digit PIA order number. It takes up to 7 business days for Private Internet Access VPN to process refunds.
Is Private Internet Access Recommended?
Private Internet Access PIA is a strong competitor in the VPN network industry. During our VPN review, we found that PIA has upped their support, improved their customer service, and added a bunch of new tweaks that speeds up the connection time.
The software now has improved protection. Encryption and malicious website blocking is the kind of protection everyone wants. Though we mostly like the fact that you can chat with a support person which despite it being a competitive industry is offered by fewer competitors.
Sure, the Private Internet Access PIA network does have a couple of drawbacks and disadvantages one of which being based in the US, but it more than makes up for it with an excellent set of features and far better customer support.
Also, with a growing number of super-fast servers (which we tested in this VPN review) and the ability to unblock leading streaming websites like Netflix, coupled with its excellent speed we would rank PIA’s network and London Trust Media amongst the best. Yes! We recommend it!