Features and Pricing Summary:
Network: Servers in 25 countries
Software: Win, Mac, iOS, Android
Refund Policy: 7 day guarantee
Retail Price: $6.95 a month
Discount Price: Save 52% Off
Welcome to our Private Internet Access (PIA) Review. In this review, we will talk about PIA, highlight the features, and offer a discounted rate. PIA is a VPN service that is operated by a company called London Trust Media. Despite it’s name, the company has a US base of operation. PIA has some great features that we will go over a little later in the review. They have a solid reputation in the industry, and they are a favorite of P2P users.
Prices and Discounts
One of the big selling points of Private Internet Access is their price. Often times in society, there is a focus on value. PIA offers their service at a low price in comparison to some of it’s competitors. As you can see in our image, unlimited usage is $6.95 for a month of service. By getting 6 months of service, you save yourself 14% off of retail, and the price drops to $5.99 a month. The best value, however, is the year’s worth of service. You can purchase an entire year for $39.95, which means that your cost per month is just $3.33. PIA also offers new members a 7 day money back guarantee.
One of the topics that we like to cover when we review VPN services, is the payment types they accept. PIA accepts all four of the major credit cards. Of course, those are MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover. In addition to those, they accept PayPal, Bitcoin, and several other types including all major gift cards. Bitcoin offers a degree of anonymity that makes it great if you are more privacy conscious.
Features are sometimes what sets one company aside from the next. We mentioned earlier that PIA had some great features, so we will take a look at them, and go in to the specifics. In the image below, you see three red arrows pointing to different options.
The first feature to mention about PIA is their VPN kill switch. The purpose of this feature is to add an extra layer of security to your browsing. As we explained briefly earlier, if for some reason your VPN connection drops, clicking the internet kill switch will stop all internet traffic on your computer. If you are a fan of torrenting activity, Private Internet Access is very p2p friendly, and also provides a port forwarding feature. Port forwarding is a method used by an application that will re-direct a communication request from one address and port number combination to another while the packets are traversing a network gateway, such as a router or firewall. The goal is to allow members to connect securely to a trusted server that acts as a liaison for the purpose of sending/receiving data to the destination servers. It accomplishes this by using SOCKS.
SOCKS stands for Socket Secure, and is an Internet protocol that exchanges network packets between a user and server via a proxy server. The SOCKS5 designation that Private Internet Access uses for their proxy adds authentication, proxies OpenVPN (TCP) connections to an arbitrary IP address, and provides a means for OpenVPN (UDP) packets to be forwarded.
The biggest reason people use a VPN is to safeguard their information from prying eyes. Whether those eyes are coming from your ISP, or the free WiFi at the coffee shop, VPNs are a common tool to combat security issues. However, if you choose a VPN provider that does not use DNS leak protection, you are in danger of being exposed. By using the DNS Leak Protection feature, you ensure that your DNS requests use the VPN. That will allow you to have the greatest level of privacy and security, but if you are planning on using a special network configuration, you may have some connection issues. Even if you decide to manually change your DNS settings on your device while this feature is on, it will still route your DNS queries through the VPN, so your information will be safe.
Another feature we will talk about is their IPv6 Leak Protection. Why is this important to you? We will explain in a moment, but we will provide you with some knowledge on the differences between IPv4 and IPv6 first. IPv6 is an internet communications protocol that is intended to replace the traditional IPv4 internet addresses.
IPv4 addresses use a 32 bit numbering system to identify the website. Those are the standard web addresses that you may have seen before. For example, you may go to the Google website by typing in www.google.com, you can also get to the site by typing 220.127.116.11 in the address bar, and your computer will translate it. The problem with IPv4, is IP address exhaustion. As more and more devices require their own IP address, it is not hard to see how addresses could be used up.
Though the two protocols were not designed to work together, there have been translation codes written so the two systems could work simultaneously. In the future, you will see sites move toward the IPv6 model. At this point, IPv6 is only used in 11% of all internet traffic. That is a large increase over the last several years. If you check the IPv6 leak protection box, you will disable IPv6. The reason why this is important is because without the IPv6 leak protection, you leave yourself vulnerable if you connect to one of those servers. Unless of course, you manually disable IPv6.
PIA provides a massive number of over 3300 servers, but they only offer them in 25 countries. Instead of offering many servers located in a few countries, we would like to see the number of countries increase to form a more diverse network. Of course, it all depends on what your reasons for using a VPN are. That said, they do offer servers in some fairly popular countries. If you are looking to use torrent software, protect your privacy, or unblock content in different countries, PIA has you covered. In the image below, you can see the countries that PIA supports.
Those countries are the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Switzerland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Russia, Romania, Turkey, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, Israel, Mexico, Brazil, and India. As we said, it may not seem like many countries being offered, but as long as you are able to accomplish your goals, that does not matter much. The question you need to ask is “Do they have servers in the countries I want to connect to?” If the answer is yes, then the service is a good solution for you. It is important to have the option to connect to anywhere you wish.
Any time you deal with encrypted data, you can expect some speed loss. What you lose in speed, however, you gain in privacy protection. PIA offers a helpful guide on their website that provides the ideal settings for your goal. In our speed test, we chose to go with the most secure encryption protocol, which is 256 bit encryption. A normal encryption speed loss ranges from 10-25%. We were surprised to see a speed loss of only 6%. Also, there was only a 3 ms increase in lag when using the VPN. If that is accurate, you would not be able to see any speed loss, except in the numbers. When streaming, you always want to choose the OpenVPN (UDP) protocol. In the PIA settings it is just labeled UDP.
Security and Privacy
In encrypting your data, there are several options you have, especially with PIA. They provide you with the standard choices like OpenVPN, L2TP, and PPTP. They also have a few other choices to make in the handling of these protocols. In the image below, you see a drop down box that says data encryption. Under this heading, you see several choices. Those are AES-256, AES-128, Blowfish, and none. After choosing that one, you need to select your level of data authentication. Here, your options are SHA1, SHA256, and none. You will want to choose the SHA256 authentication level. This is because the SHA1 has been found to not be secure. The third drop down box you see is called handshake.
Under this category, you have six options, but only 2 cryptosystems (encryption styles). These systems are RSA, and ECC. RSA is by far the stronger encryption method, and was developed as an asymmetrical private-public key system. When using RSA, we advise using 4096. This will provide you the highest level of security in the RSA system. ECC stands for Elliptic Curve Cryptography, and is not widely used. That is because of the revelations about the NSA. It was found that the NSA could more easily crack the ECC version, as opposed to it’s RSA counterpart. For that reason we do not recommend using ECC, unless of course you do not mind the possibility of getting spied on by the NSA in the US.
Again, the safest, fastest choice to make is the OpenVPN connection type (UDP) and the AES-256 bit encryption type. To find out what their differences are, PIA offers a guide on their site to explain which choices to make, based on your needs. For maximum security protection, use the following settings. The Data Encryption drop down box needs to be set to AES-256. The Data Authentication box needs to be set to SHA256, and the Handshake box should be RSA-4096. Even if you don’t think you need maximum protection, the benefits of extra security outweigh any speed loss you may encounter.
PIA has some great support options, but we will mention the best ones first. If you want to get in contact with live support, they offer a US phone number to call as long as you call during business hours. Otherwise, PIA has a live chat client that is available 24/7/365. You may also fill out a support ticket, and they will get back to you within 4 hours. We found the staff very friendly and helpful for the questions we asked. It was nice to get such prompt service out of a VPN provider.
Private Internet Access supports all major operating systems, but they offer specific clients for mobile and desktop uses. Those clients are for:
- Windows – XP or newer
- Mac OS X – 10.7 or newer
- iOS – 7.0 or newer
- Android – 2.2 or newer
There are manual setup guides for Linux/Ubuntu, and for routers like Tomato and DD-WRT. Additionally, you will find setup guides for other devices listed on their site.
Like most VPN providers, PIA makes signing up for their service pretty easy. Once you decide what level of service you want, a pop up window asks you what method of payment you want to use. No matter if you are paying with a credit card, Bitcoin, or any of the other forms, you will need to enter an email address and the payment info. Since your login is your email address, there is no additional information needed. Before you are allowed to create an account, you must put in payment info first.
Then, simply fill in your email address and confirm it, and you will be able to start using PIA’s unlimited VPN service. We are glad to see such a minimal amount of information needed to create an account. There are other VPN providers that require more information. PIA certainly keeps privacy in mind with their sign up process.
How to Use PIA VPN for Windows
PIA works very well, but if you are an average user, you may find the VPN service a bit tricky to use.
- Once you install the client (in this case we used Windows), you will see a tray icon like the ones to the right. If the service is there but disconnected, the PIA robot will be red. If it is connected, it will be green.
- After opening the tray, right click on the red robot and select settings. The settings box is where we showed the kill switch earlier in this review. As you saw, then you may also choose the region. That is only if you want to change the default location.
- Save your settings, and the box will disappear. Go back in to the tray, right click again, and select connect. You may also pick a different server from their list. The image to the right shows a smaller version of the list, but it gives you a good idea of what you may expect to see.
- The robot in the system tray will turn green, indicating you are connected. Be aware if you close the icon in your tray, you will have to do a search for it on your Windows machine, since there is no desktop icon for PIA.
The image to the right also shows the settings heading. From here, you have the option to change the settings that we mentioned earlier. That heading is where you would change your encryption level or connection type. There are several other features located under this this heading including checking the boxes of IPv6 leak protection, DNS leak protection, the box to select port forwarding, and the internet kill switch. Additionally, you can select the option to start PIA as soon as you login, and auto connect when you start PIA. Also keep in mind that you must disconnect from the server that you are currently on before connecting to another location offered by the service.
How to Use PIA VPN for Mac
For Mac users, this procedure is similar, but we will go through it anyway. Your first step will be to go to the website, and download the mac client, like you see below.
When you click on the Mac OS X version, you will see a file pop up and ask you to install the “installer_osx.dmg” file. This is the install file for the Macintosh version. Double click the installer app, enter the credentials you received by email, and press save.
Now, you will see an icon that looks like a robot on your menu bar, like the one you see above. Clicking on it opens your options to auto-connect to the recommended server, or you may choose one that is more specific. Then just choose the one you wish, and connect.
PIA brought a different flow to their Mac VPN client than other providers. Rather than having a traditional user interface, the PIA app runs from the menu bar as shown above. Once initiated you will click on the PIA (Android looking symbol) icon in the menu bar and choose a server location. You can also select “Connect Auto” to let the app select a server. Once you click on a location the client will connect you to the server within just a few seconds. Once connected you will notice the PIA symbol turn darker and a check box show up to the right of it. At this point your data is being encrypted through the PIA network. When you’re ready to exit the VPN just click on the PIA symbol in the menu bar again and click disconnect.
Now that we’ve looked at how you connect to the PIA network on Mac, let’s review some of the advanced features included in the app. For starters, you can set whether you want the client to connect using OpenVPN UDP or TCP. We always recommend UDP since it’s faster. You can also dig down into the encryption and set specific data encryption, data authentication, and handshake options. If you consider doing so we suggest you visit the PIA site to learn more about the options. Otherwise, you could end up with less privacy protection than intended or slow performance.
The main settings screen will let you set a remote port. Your options are port 1194, 8080, 9001, or 53. You can also set a local port. Private Internet Access supports port forwarding for Mac users. You can also set the VPN kill switch to disable your Internet when the VPN disconnnects. Finally the client includes IPv6 leak protection and a small packet option to help solve issues that can occur on some networks. The Mac client is very similar to its Windows counterpart, both in terms of features and usage. This makes it quite easy to switch between operating systems when using PIA.
How to Use PIA VPN for Android
For this example, we will use the Android operating system. Compared to Windows, the mobile version of PIA is very easy to use. Go to the Google Play Store, search for Private Internet Access and download the app.
Launching the app will bring up a screen like the one you see to the left in the image above. Here, enter your credentials. You may choose the server by pressing the server shown under the server selection heading. Doing so will bring up a list like you see in the middle image. The final screen in the image to the right shows the options you may choose. The settings location is noted by the red arrow in the top right hand corner of the screen. Connect and do what you would normally do. As with the Windows and Mac versions, there is a choice on encryption. You may choose AES-256, AES-128, Blowfish-128, and even a no encryption option. We do not recommend the no encryption choice, since the primary purpose of using a VPN is for privacy protection. AES and Blowfish are comparable, and they are both good methods. Blowfish is only offered as 128-bit encryption, but the encryption keys are longer. That is why we still recommend AES encryption over Blowfish.
The Android version has advanced features that we would expect to see in other clients. Below, we will tell what these features are.
Use TCP: This is a reference to the OpenVPN protocol that we mentioned earlier. We also stated that you should use UDP whenever possible. The difference between these two protocols is that TCP is designed for people that have connection issues. The data is error checked when you use TCP, and that guarantees the information will be delivered. That makes it a good choice because it is just as secure, but slower than the UDP version.
The other two features you see in the image above are the internet kill switch, and port forwarding. We won’t go over them again, because we covered both of them in the “Features” section of this review. As you could imagine, they work exactly the same in the Android version as they do in the other versions we showed earlier.
How to Use PIA VPN for iOS
Much like Android, PIA also offers client specific software for iOS. To use the service for your favorite Apple device, you will want to go to iTunes, and download the software. Fortunately, Private Internet Access makes it extremely easy to use their software on iOS. After downloading the program, it is time to launch. Also like Android, this is where you enter your credentials. Once you click the login button, you will see an image like the one below.
Now that you see a screen like the one above, you have the option to choose a server, but that is not required if you wish to quick connect. Simply slide the switch in the center to the on position, and the client will connect. Now, you can browse and view content, just as you would if you were in that country.
The PIA iOS app is less feature rich than many of the other VPNs we have reviewed. It’s user friendly but lacks advanced features. The only option you have is to change server locations. You can do so by tapping on the down arrow next to “Current Region” in the app. This will bring up the screen shown in the center image above. From here you can easily select any server location. Tapping on a server will take you back to the PIA dashboard screen where you can connect. Slide the switch to the on position and wait for PIA to connect. Once it does you will see the screen change to match the one shown to the right above. You can clearly see that you are connected to the PIA network. To disconnect simply slide the switch back to the off position.
Favorite features for PIA:
- Very well priced
- Easy to use mobile apps
- Good speeds
- Advanced features like VPN kill switch and DNS leak protection
- Ability to customize encryption levels
- 24 hour live chat support
- P2P friendly
Thoughts to make PIA better:
- Redesign desktop interface so it is easier to use
- Add more countries
In conclusion, Private Internet Access is a company with a good reputation, and a great VPN service. Since their desktop client lacks a traditional user interface, unless you have some technical knowledge, the desktop version of the service may be confusing to use. It also does not have as many countries as other services. We love the security they offer, their great pricing, and their 24/7/365 live chat and email support. They are proof that you can still get a quality VPN service without spending a lot of money. Those in the p2p community will love the advanced functionality of Private Internet Access, and the service seems to be well suited to their needs. All members will benefit from the features, though. They also offer new members a 7 day money back guarantee. That should be plenty of time for you to make a good decision.