Private Internet Access VPN might have a rather small range in terms of server locations, with 29 countries (yet growing) – but they do have 3271+ servers within this list. They make a bold statement in their intro video “register today and disappear online” – and that is pretty much Private Internet Access VPN in a nutshell! The company is big on security and privacy and they grant users the ability to fully customize their product – but bear in mind, to do this (and get the most out of PIA), you need to know what you’re doing.
You have all the expected perks, such as unlimited bandwidth and server switches, along with a kill switch and PIA MACE™, which blocks URL’s used for ads, malware and trackers. From thereon, things get rather technical. Open up the app and click on the arrow to expand the software window – you’ll get an elongated interface with a range of ‘quick settings’. It’s under ‘view all settings’ where the party really starts.
Private Internet Access VPN in general utilizes high grade encryption based on the popular cryptographic software, Blowfish – a symmetric-key block cipher for which no cryptanalysis has been found to this day. This is used in combination with OpenVPN and IPSec/L2TP, PPTP and SOCKS5 protocols.
That said, security and encryption methods are fully customizable and Private Internet Access VPN lets you choose how you want to secure your browsing experience. The majority of the protocols that are available today, are available on Private Internet Access – and you can pre-set or configure them to your exact preferences.
This starts under their network settings where you can customize your DNS settings and request port forwarding (not available for all locations). You can also permit traffic between devices on your home network by allowing LAN traffic, even when the kill switch is enabled.
The real security features lie under the connections tab where you can choose your connection type, change your remote port, select your preferred data key encryption method (AES-128 GCM/CBS, AES-256 GCM/CBC or none), along with your configuration method – either DHCP or Static. You can further secure your sessions by configuring the proxy settings, beyond the standard Shadowsocks and SOCKS5 Proxy settings.
Engage ‘view all settings’ and an additional square window will pop up with a host of tabs, including ‘general’, ‘account’, ‘privacy’, ‘network’, ‘connection’, ‘proxy’ and ‘help’. There are a few easy-to-grasp settings under general preferences, such as to change your theme from either dark to light, along with choosing your tray icon style and dashboard appearance (attached to tray or window). The major features fall under network, connection and proxy.
You can change your DNS settings to pre-set options or configure a custom DNS. You can also request port forwarding and tick whether you want to allow LAN traffic. There is an option to check ‘App Exclusions’ (currently in BETA phase), which will install a split tunnel filter. Delve deeper into the darkness under Connection Preferences – and you’ll find the ability to customize your connection type, data encryption method, remote port, handshake protocol and your configuration method.
With Private Internet Access VPN, you can use Shadowsocks or SOCKS5 Proxy – and both options are further configurable.
Private Internet Access also offers a network and server grade firewall, along with the packet filtering framework abilities of Netfilter Project. They furthermore state that they’re the only VPN that truly keeps no traffic logs.
Private Internet Access VPN has three pricing options. The 3-year plan is their best value in terms monthly cost average and is available for $2.19 per month meaning $79 for 3 years and it’s discounted by 79% compared with the monthly rate. Alternatively, their 12-month package is billed at $35.95 annually. This option works out to $3.33/month. Their monthly plan is the most inexpensive one I’ve seen thus far, at just $9.95/month.
Although they do not offer a free trial, Private Internet Access VPN offers a risk free 30-day money back guarantee. Purchase any of their packages and you’ll have 30 days to take it for a spin. You can cancel your subscription by going to ‘manage my account’ from within the app, which will redirect you to their website. You will find an option to cancel the subscription in one click – although I recommend contacting their accounts department via their online form to request a refund as per their 30-day money back guarantee as an added measure.
When it comes to ‘ways to pay’, PIA offers a full-house of payment processors, with everything from gift cards and e-wallets to credit cards and more. You can check out with PayPal, Amazon Pay, Zcash, BitcoinCash, Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, bitpay, mint and BEAM – many of which offer completely anonymous transacting. They also have standard credit card facilities, which include VISA, MasterCard, AMEX, Discover and JCB.
After checkout, PIA will automatically detect your OS and the relevant software required – and you’ll be provided with a ‘download’ button suitable for your device and system. The file size is slightly bigger than most – for my Windows OS it is just under 24mb. Considering the app’s capabilities, this is understandable.
The app itself takes some getting used to and you might need a bit of trial-and-error before you really get the hang of it. My initial thoughts on the interface is that it is not as simplistic and user-friendly upon first glance. After using it for just a couple of days, I got the hang of it, nonetheless.
The app icon (a faded grey or white padlock – depending on whether you’re connected to the VPN) hides to your system tray, and if you open it in its minimized view, you’ll simply see the option to connect to a VPN server. Click on the selected server or expand the window by means of the downward-facing arrow, and the window will expand to a vertical, elongated interface.
From there you can can change your VPN server to a specific location or opt for the ‘quick connect’ options. You’ll also see performance and usage statistics. Under ‘quick settings’ you can enable or disable ‘desktop notifications’, ‘MACE’, ‘port forwarding’, ‘allow LAN’, ‘debug logging’ and change the theme to either light or dark. The last option is to ‘view all settings’ which opens up the comprehensive settings menu.
You’ll furthermore have a snapshot of your subscription status and ‘VPN snooze’, which allows you to temporarily disconnect the VPN for a period of between 1 and 30 minutes, after which is will automatically reconnect.
If you select ‘view all settings’, the app will open an additional window that contains all of the options I covered in the “features” and “security and encryption” sections of this review. With a lot of flexibility to customize the app by changing security protocols, proxy’s and ports, I would recommend Private Internet Access VPN to more advanced users who have an in-depth understanding of these technologies.
I determined my baseline speed (not connected via a VPN) by running multiple tests on speedtest.net over a 100mb symmetrical fibre line – connected via an Ethernet cable directly to my router. The tests were conducted on a Dell XPS15 4k touchscreen laptop with 32GB ram and a 1TB SSD (utilizing a Gigabit USB to Ethernet adapter – well worth a purchase if you’re looking for that extra bit of speed that you sacrifice when connected via WiFi).
For the Private Internet VPN speed test, I connected to the default US server, which was located in Florida. I ran multiple consecutive tests and drew an average speed and ping reaction time from those figures.
The speed was not stable – and although I ran the tests consecutively, I did get contradicting results. I achieved a low speed of 5.58Mbps download and a high of 11.23Mbps download at times. The same inconsistencies applied to the upload speeds, where I at times had a high of 38.18Mbps upload and a low of 8.03Mbps upload. The ping remained decently stable.
PIA supports Windows, Mac, iOS, Linux and Android operating systems. There are also browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and Opera. You can configure Private Internet Access VPN with a compatible router to secure your entire home network. Cross-device compatibility is excellent, and you can install the app on your laptop, PC, mobile phone or tablet – with 10 simultaneous connections allowed per subscription.
Private Internet Access VPN falls short on both customer support availability and response time. Their live chat option is only available from 11am to 6pm on Mondays and Fridays – and from 9am to 6pm on Tuesdays through to Thursdays. Note that this is Mountain Time (MT).
You can contact them outside of these hours by completing a (comprehensive) online contact form where you need to supply a vast amount of information for the form to submit. Their turnaround time on responses via email is a few hours, at least.
For self-help options, refer to their ‘knowledgebase’ and ‘guides’ where you’ll find FAQ’s, some assistance relating to your account, billing, technical issues and best security practices – along with guides on installation, set-up, general settings and advanced settings.
Private Internet Access is an excellent VPN for advance users. It has advanced fully customizable security protocols and options that we haven’t seen in any other VPN.