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VPN Private Internet Access (PIA) Review

VPN Private Internet Access (PIA) Review

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Private Internet Access Deals

Private Internet Access (commonly known as PIA) is a capable VPN provider, now owned by Kape, which also owns CyberGhost, ZenMate, and ExpressVPN.

The company’s “NextGen VPN” has locations in 78 countries, spread across the globe.

That’s cool, but it’s not just about numbers, says PIA. NextGen servers use “better hardware components,” “10Gbps network cards instead of 1Gbps,” use RAM disks to ensure “all sensitive information is lost once the server loses power,” and now supports both WireGuard and OpenVPN.

You can access this VPN via Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Linux apps, browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, and there are detailed setup tutorials for routers and many other types of devices.

    Private Internet Access subscription options:

  • 36-month plan – $2.03 per month (total cost $73.08)

PIA supports connecting up to 10 devices at the same time. That’s double the amount you’d get with many VPNs, although Windscribe and Surfshark have no limits at all.

The extras range from the simple and straightforward (built-in blocking of ads, trackers, and known malicious sites) to the lower and technical: SOCKS5 proxy for extra speed, port forwarding support, the ability to choose your preferred encryption, authentication, handshake methods, and more.

And if that sounds too complicated to you, no problem – there is 24/7 live chat support to talk you through any tricky parts.

PIA offers plenty of server locations, as well as technology to avoid VPN detection (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

New features

PIA has introduced the Smart DNS option, a handy tool that provides a quick and easy way to unblock certain websites. This isn’t as powerful as a VPN – there’s no encryption, it doesn’t change your IP address – but you use it on devices like smart TVs, game consoles, and many others that don’t support running PIA apps.

PIA’s desktop apps now have improved obfuscation features to help you bypass VPN detection (and avoid being blocked) in non-privacy-friendly countries.

The Android app has been certified by the ioXt Alliance, to verify that it complies with standards in areas such as encryption, software verification, and updates.

Recent additions include cryptographic improvements (SHA-4096 is always used for handshake authentication, OpenVPN CBC always uses SHA-256 for data authentication), a highly flexible automation rule system that allows you to connect or disconnect automatically when certain networks are accessed, and a low-chain fixes and level improvements ( See the PIA changelog if you’d like to learn more).

This powerful command line application for Windows, Linux, and Mac enables automation of VPN operations from scripts. At its simplest, you can use this to create a shortcut that automatically connects to a VPN and then launches an app, but it can do more (we’ll talk about that later).

Private Internet Access offers a range of payment methods (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Private Internet Access Pricing

The monthly plan for Private Internet is $9.95. Some providers are a bit cheaper – Windscribe asks for $9 – but most are somewhere in the $10 to $13 range.

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The true value starts with the annual plan, at as low as $3.33 per month. But the best deal is the three-year plan at just $2.19 per month. That’s less than half the price of CyberGhost ($4.88) and HideMyAss ($4.99), and less than a third of the price of Hotspot Shield ($7.99).

PIA can now provide dedicated IP addresses in five locations: Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This gives you the same IP address every time you log in, and since no one shares it, you are less likely to find that you are blacklisted for dodgy activities by someone else. But using the same IP also means websites are more likely to recognize you, so this isn’t an option for everyone.

Dedicated IP pricing is reasonable at $5 per month, $4.25 for the one-year plan, and $4 over two years. NordVPN is a little more expensive at $5.83 per month on its annual plan, but Ivacy drops everyone’s price at just $1.99.

You can pay with Bitcoin if you’re looking for extra privacy, and there’s also the usual card and PayPal options.

There’s a 7-day free trial for mobile users, and you’re also covered by a 30-day money-back guarantee.

There is another surprise to PIA’s terms and services (which is unusually good for lowercase). Many VPNs say that customers are only allowed a refund once at all. The Private Internet Access website states that if you purchased a new account more than three months after the last redemption, you are eligible for another account. This is unusually generous, but it seems fair to us. If you try a VPN and the service doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t matter if you got your money back three years ago – you should have the same refund rights as everyone else.

PIA offers AES-128, AES-256 CBC, or GCM encryption (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

Privacy

All VPNs claim to offer great privacy, but Private Internet Access combines an extraordinary mix of features that go way beyond most of them.

PIA applications mostly use only the latest and most secure protocols, for example, in OpenVPN and WireGuard.

OpenVPN’s protection is AES-128 by default, but with one or two clicks you can switch it to AES-256 CBC or GCM, adjust local or remote ports, or switch to WireGuard.

Private Internet Access provides its own DNS to reduce the chance of DNS leaks. The apps are flexible, though – the Windows client can be set to use your default DNS, or any custom DNS of your choosing.

Private Internet Access protected all of our data from DNS leaks in our tests (Image credit: DNS Leak Test)

There is also a kill switch to disable internet access if the VPN drops. It uses its own PIA on the desktop, and integrates with device features on iOS and Android (it uses an Android kill switch, for example).

PIA’s desktop applications have the option to send anonymous contact data to the company, to help improve the product. But unlike some competitors, the installer does not turn this on by default. Nothing is sent unless I go to the settings panel and turn it on (it’s the “Help PIA Improvement” option in the help area, if you’re curious).

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Connect to the Chrome extension and you’ll find a host of additional privacy features (site blocking, third-party cookies, website referrals, and more). You can set it up separately and for free, but the plugins make it easier and add worthwhile extra layers of protection.

PIA’s MACE feature blocks access to domains used by ads, trackers, and malware, further limiting the ways companies can follow you across the web.

Perhaps best of all, Private Internet Access has made open source desktop clients, mobile applications, and many other components and libraries. This allows other developers to freely inspect the source code, evaluate its quality, report errors, and possibly check to see if it does anything that might compromise user privacy.

Private Internet Access keeps no logs of its users (Image credit: Private Internet Access)

registration

While most VPNs claim that they do not log customer activities or traffic, there is rarely much to back this up. You are expected to cross your fingers and trust that they are honest.

Private Internet Access is far more trustworthy, claiming to be “Verified” as “the only VPN service installed with no log.”

The company appears to be referring to court cases where subpoenas were filed on PIA requesting account information, but the only data provided was the public location of the server’s IP addresses. No user-related data is ever given away.

Private Internet Access also publishes a Transparency Report detailing any official requests for information and user data that are delivered. The report covering the first three months of 2021 records two court orders, three arrest warrants and 12 subpoenas received, with no records provided for any of these requests.

A privacy policy is usually the best place to look for more details about what a VPN does, but PIA is mostly about the website, and says almost nothing about a VPN.

Finally we found a support article, “Do you log your user traffic?” , which states that Private Internet Access “never keeps any logs, of any kind”. It shows that records that might otherwise be kept are redirected to the empty device instead of being written to the hard drive, which means they simply disappear.

The article also includes this paragraph, which expressly states that the company does not log session data or your online activities: “We can say unequivocally that our company does not and does not keep metadata logs regarding when a subscriber accessed the VPN service, what It is the duration of the subscriber’s use, and what IP address the subscriber originated from. Moreover, the encryption system does not allow us to view and record which IP addresses the subscriber has visited or visited.

While this all sounds great, we’re left taking most of it based on confidence. Even court cases PIA says prove no registry service date from 2018, so they can’t tell us much about what’s happening now. Top VPN names, including TunnelBear, NordVPN, ExpressVPN, and others have allowed external audits of their systems, and it’s time for PIA to do the same.

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We test the speed of every VPN we review (Image credit: Speedtest.net)

performance

Every VPN promises a very high speed and reliable network, but the reality can be very different. That’s why we go beyond enthusiastic marketing, and pass every VPN we review through our extensive testing.

This starts with installing the latest VPN app for Windows 10 from PIA on systems in a UK data center and a US location, each with a 1Gbps connection. We used the app to connect to our nearest location and then measured the download performance using several speed test sites and services (SpeedTest website, command line app, nPerf, SpeedOf.me and more). We ran the tests using WireGuard and OpenVPN connections, and then did them again in an evening session.

US OpenVPN speeds were competitive at 190-300Mbps. A few providers did a better job – Hide.me at 310-330Mbps, HideMyAss 270-410Mbps, ProtonVPN 460-510Mbps – but PIA fared well overall, outperforming most of the competition.

The company peaked when we moved to WireGuard, though, at 430Mbps. This is in the same area as Surfshark (450-475Mbps) and Windscribe (430-480Mbps), but it can’t match CyberGhost (760-860Mbps), NordVPN (760-880Mbps) or IPVanish (750-900Mbps).

Private Internet Access was able to unblock Netflix in our tests (Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix and streaming

Connecting to a VPN for use with Netflix and other streaming services can allow you to access all kinds of geo-blocked websites and hopefully avoid annoying “not available in your region” error messages.

To test the unblocking capabilities of Private Internet Access, we tried to access US-only Netflix content, Amazon Prime, BBC iPlayer, and Disney Plus from two test sites.

Accessing Netflix is ​​a great test to unblock websites. PIA failed to be optimally located on the East Coast of the United States, but the shift to the West Coast got us in.

BBC iPlayer also has strong VPN defenses, but private internet access has bypassed them, and we can stream whatever content we like.

Good news, and it has only gotten better as PIA has given us easy access to both Amazon Prime and Disney Plus.

This is a great result, and puts PIA ahead of the curve with the best unblocking VPNs. CyberGhost, ExpressVPN, Hide.me, Hola, PrivadoVPN, ProtonVPN, and Surfshark all unblocked each of our test sites in recent reviews.

Internet access allows you to torrent files without bandwidth limits or restrictions (Image credit: BitTorrent)

torrents

Private Internet Access supports P2P technology, and we don’t just mean there are two specialized servers hidden somewhere. You can use torrents from anywhere, without bandwidth or other limits to restrict your activities.

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