Private Internet Access is a low-cost VPN provider based in the US. It boasts a rapidly expanding network of servers – currently more than 3,270 – in 25 countries. Its simple VPN client promises one-click connection and advanced security features, including DNS leak protection, a kill switch and port forwarding.
Testing Private Internet Access and it’s VPN offering
I wanted to find out if this VPN service lives up to its claim that it offers the ‘highest quality for the lowest price.’ After all, where privacy and security is concerned, you sometimes get what you pay for. PIA, owned by London Trust Media, claims it offers the ‘most anonymous VPN service’ with no logging. It has impressive industry accreditations, including an Editor’s Choice badge from PCMag and is purportedly trusted by household names, including Forbes and Yahoo. It also has a four-star score on TrustPilot.
While nobody can say, the pricing plans are not competitive, what about the level of service? My Private Internet Access Review found both good and bad points.
- Huge number of servers – over 3,270 – and military grade encryption
- Fast connection speeds
- Advanced security features, including IPv6 leak protection, kill switch and encrypted Wi-Fi
- Low-cost packages
- No logging and P2P supported
- Ad blocker included
- Fewer features than some alternatives
- Based in the US, part of the ‘Five Eyes’ surveillance pact
- Poor customer support, with limited knowledge base
PIA pricing plans as low as $3.33 per month
While the monthly plan comes in at $6.95 (by no means expensive compared to some alternatives), the yearly option offers the best value at just $3.33 per month ($39.95 per year).
There is also a six-month plan at $5.99 per month ($35.95 per six months). While this does appear to be very affordable, I have found providers offering cheaper options. PureVPN, for example, has a plan that works out at $2.08 per month. However, it requires a sign-up of two years.
Private Internet Access has a 7-day money back guarantee. It offers a wide range of payment options, including anonymous payment choices. The options include PayPal, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Amazon Payments, OK Pay, Bitcoin, all major gift cards and many more.
Those who want complete anonymity can use a made-up name and use an anonymous payment method.
PIA Platforms and Software
Private Internet Access (PIA) supports most platforms and devices: Windows 7, 8 and 10 Mac OS (10.8 or newer), Linux (Ubuntu 12.04 or newer), iOS (8.0 or newer) and Android (4.0.4 or newer).
There is also a Chrome extension app, which requires v48 or newer. The software is available to be manually installed on DD-WRT and Tomato routers.
PIA offers excellent compatibility, meaning your security and privacy is protected wherever you are and whatever device you are using, including Android and iPhone mobile devices. Importantly, the software comes with wi-fi encryption – so your security won’t be compromised if you use public wi-fi hotspots. You can connect up to five devices simultaneously, and there are no restrictions on bandwidth usage.
OpenVPN encryption with PIA is one of the best available. It uses the military grade AES-256 cipher and authorization is a robust SHA256. Coupled with a highly secure handshake, this makes for a top-level secure VPN service. Additionally, for better speeds during streaming, this VPN provider allows users to reset the handshake to RSA 2048 for faster internet speeds.
With multiple security layers that bypass censorship and provide complete anonymity, while keeping no logs. PIA boasts advanced VPN security features such as a kill switch, to protect your anonymity if your connection with a secure server is lost, IPv6 leak protection and DNS leak protection.
All-in-all, this is good protection. Yes, some people may be put off because PIA is a US-based VPN provider. And it falls within the Five Eyes surveillance zone. However, with the ability to use this service supposedly anonymously and the level of security provided, it offers one of the highest levels of protection around. The question; however, remains, how private and secure is it really?
PrivateInternetAccess.com states it ‘does not collect or log any traffic or use of its Virtual Private Network (“VPN”) or Proxy.’ Its Apache web server logs are regularly pruned, and no usernames or passwords are ever logged. Temporary cookies are used to handle control panel logins. I just wish I could believe that!!
PIA and the Law
As a business operating in the United States of America, it strives to uphold privacy and the rights of its clients. However, it does state clearly that if subpoenaed it will do everything it can to comply with the law.
Using its own legal team, it will scrutinize any request for information to assess its legality. Why does it do that? It appears that having its customers privacy in mind is not just a statement. It’s a fact, so if lawyers find that a particular subpoena doesn’t hold up to the spirit of the law, or by being of too broad a scope they will question it.
What does that mean for users? It means, rather than just complying Private Internet Access will try to narrow the scope of information sought. Additionally, when it can do so, a user whose activity is the subject of a subpoena will be informed. In doing so, this would enable that person to object to the information being disclosed about them.
Furthermore, there is the chance that because no logs are kept, the company will not have the information requested. In fact, in sharing such information, it could be breaking California State Law. Why? Because it is required to not share information with any third-party, exactly! How that transfers/ is compatible with Federal Law is a different matter.
PIA VPN Features
All pricing plans offer the same features. PIA VPN delivers a standard security suite that includes WiFi encryption, P2P support, an indicator than torrenting is allowed.
Plus, there’s support for multiple protocols, including PPTP, OpenVPN, and L2TP/IPSec. Five devices can connect simultaneously and software includes ad blockers and protection from trackers and malware.
Other PIA VPN features include multiple VPN gateways, with over 3,272 servers in 25+ countries, unlimited bandwidth, SOCKS5 Proxy and no traffic logs. The setup is near instant for most platforms, which I thought was fantastic. Another positive is that streaming is supported, by that I mean, in my experience servers are fast enough to cope. And OpenVPN handshake strength can be lowered. That enables a user to speed up internet connections which is great if you intend to do a lot of streaming.
I watched the video tutorial on PIA’s website before signing up. I used a made-up name with an active email account using the same details, which were both accepted. Set-up for Windows was instant, and I didn’t encounter any issues during the download stage.
The VPN client was installed and ready to use in just a few steps.
The Windows client was probably the most basic I’ve seen, so far, but had all the features anyone needs. It was low on branding, which made finding the options very easy.
Drop-down menus allow for easy configuration (to suit your online activities) and finding available servers was equally easy. Regions were accessible from a drop-down menu towards the bottom of the client, on the left-hand side. All of that means, it is probably the easiest VPN I’ve used to date. I would recommend it as a possible starting choice for anyone thinking of using a VPN.
PIA VPN Server Speeds
I am from UK, and my home fiber broadband before connecting to a server runs at 46.3Mbps download, and 13.7Mbps upload. So, as with all VPNs, once connected my speeds were slower when using OpenVPN. However, by reducing the strength of the handshake, I was able to stream with PIA in HD-1080p comfortably. Plus after three tests, I reached a max download speed of 26Mbps. While not overly impressive, there are better for sure, the cost means it’s not bad.
Upload speeds, on the other hand, weren’t good at all. The max I saw was as low as 4Mbps. These speeds were seen after testing with a connection to servers in the US and Netherlands. With the closer, Dutch server providing the better rate both up and down.
PIA Customer Support
While Private Internet Access offers a seemingly secure and affordable VPN service, its customer service is where it fails. When you visit PrivateInternetAccess.com, you won’t find a live chat service. You will, however, spot a Download and Support tab in the menu. Click on it, and you will find video tutorials to support most platforms and a link to a support library, which is sparsely populated.
The FAQ section comprises 29-articles. A Best Practice section offers nine articles on topics such as Testing Your Security and Deleting Files.
Contact-us comes via an email form. However, VPN users require a secure service with speedy delivery of expert help. Unfortunately, when something goes wrong or technical help is needed that is lacking. As such, PIA could boost its standing in a rapidly expanding marketplace with a much-improved support.
Private Internet Access Review: Final Thoughts
PIA gets a big thumbs up from me for value for money. It offers a great level of protection for a low, low price. It’s Windows client is easy to download and use. The choice of servers and locations is impressive too. And not to forget, it supports multiple protocols, including P2P, and can be used for streaming.
The drawbacks are poor customer support and business location – the US. Otherwise, it is a reasonable and popular VPN provider.