Private Internet Access (PIA) Review 2019

BEST FOR: Advanced VPN with full control for experienced users

  • Affordably priced
  • Zero logging policy
  • Strong encryptions
  • Malware blocker
PAGE MENU

Private Internet Access (PIA) Overview

Joel Timothy

Last updated: 17 April 2019

Private Internet Access (PIA) is one of the big-name VPN service providers available today. The VPN offers powerful tools that provide you with a private and secure online experience. PIA has a no-logs policy despite being located in the US, and it’s pricing makes it the most affordable top VPN. Unfortunately, the VPN has poor customer service and doesn’t work with Netflix. In this PIA review, we’ll examine the VPN more closely and help you determine whether PIA is the VPN that best suits your needs.

Pros

What we liked

  • Zero logs
  • 3,200+ servers across the globe
  • Clients for all major platforms
  • Fairly priced
  • Ad-blocker

Cons

What can be improved

  • Slow customer support
  • Doesn’t work with Netflix & BBC iPlayer

Security & Privacy

Privacy

Private Internet Access is based in the US, the worst jurisdiction for a company trying to provide privacy to users. The US is the home of the NSA and other organizations that are ordinarily very strict when it comes to  copyright protection and digital crimes. The laws of the land also make it hard for any ISP and service provider to honor a privacy promise to users. The FBI or any other organization can access a user’s record with a simple court order. Sometimes, a VPN provider can even be served with a gag order, which would mean that the company has to keep the investigation a secret.

However, to our delight, PIA manages to keep zero logs despite being based in Orlando. This means that the VPN service provider doesn’t keep any personally identifiable information about the usage of their service at any given time. This is a good policy, because even when an organization comes with a court order, PIA can’t give anything incriminating to them. Actually, this already happened once. In a report published by the FBI, PIA couldn’t help with information and data about a particular user who was being investigated.

This means that we can trust PIA when they say that they only collect the following information from users of their service:

  • E-mail Address
  • Payment Data
  • Clients who opt to use the optional control panel will receive a temporary cookie

Their policy states that “PIA absolutely does not keep any logs, of any kind, period. While this does make things harder in some cases, specifically dealing with outbound mail, advanced techniques to handle abuse issues, and things of that nature, this provides a high level of security and privacy to all of our users. Logs are never written to the hard-drives of any of our machines and are specifically written to the null device, which simply acts if the data never existed.”

Email address and payment data are the minimal information a VPN service can collect, and so PIA provides us with one of the best logging policies we can get. With this VPN, what you do online can’t be linked back to you.

PIA also provides you with a chance to pay anonymously with Bitcoin, so no one can trace any payments back to you. Privacy is one of PIA’s strongest points.

Security

PIA also takes security seriously. The VPN provides AES-256 cipher encryption coupled with HMAC SHA256 data authentication and HMAC SHA356 control has authentication. To make the encryption even more secure, PIA uses the most up-to-date handshake technology, RSA-4096 bit. Perfect forward secrecy is implemented using the Diffie-Hellman Key Exchange (DHE).

We definitely consider this to be solid security, and you therefore don’t need to worry about lack of protection when arr using PIA. The VPN also provides a means of customizing your encryption through the PrivateInternetAccess Client.

As for protocols, PIA apps don’t provide the option of choosing a protocol. The apps use OpenVPN by defualt, but you can also use L2TP/ IPSec with a manual configuration.

  • PPTP
  • L2TP/IPSec
  • OpenVPN

Pricing & Payment

Private Internet Access has for long been one of the cheapest VPN services, but their plans have been recently reviewed.

Currently, they have 3 pricing plans that offer the same service, with the difference only being in the billing cycles.

monthly plan

$9.95

Per month

billed monthly

most popular
two-year plan

$3.49

Per month

$83.87 billed after 24 months

7-Day Money Back Guarantee

yearly plan

$5.99

Per month

$71.8 billed after 12 months.

7-Day Money Back Guarantee

*Although we make every effort to ensure all prices are accurate, we cannot guarantee thet they are always up to date

Here are PIA’s pricing plans:

  • The monthly plan which costs $9.95 billed monthly.
  • A yearly plan costs $71.88 billed after 12 months. This translates to $5.99 a month.
  • The two-year plan costs $83.87 billed after 24 months. This translates to $3.49 a month.

Payment Methods

Private Internet Access allows various methods through which you can make your payments. These include:

  • Credit Cards
  • PayPal
  • AmazonPay
  • BitcoinCash
  • Z-cash
  • Bitcoin
  • Mint
  • MOBIAMO

We were glad to see that Private Internet Access has put in place reliable  methods that let users pay anonymously.

7-Day Money Back Guarantee

Private Internet Access offers a one-week money back guarantee. We dug deeper into this offering and found that there are no tricky clauses that can catch you off guard. The only issue with the money back guarantee is probably the length. Most of the top VPNs offer a 30-day money back guarantee. Nevertheless, 7 days is  quite sufficient to let you test the VPN service.

To get your money back, you need to fill out a form or sent an email to helpdesk@privateinternetaccess.com. You will be required to provide:

  • The email address you entered during account registration
  • The 7-digit PIA Order number from your payment confirmation email

PIA payments are normally processed within 3-7 business days.

Credit cards
Payment Service
Crypto Currency
Others
and more!

Performance

PIA is a reliable VPN, and we didn’t experience any connection issues when using it. The kill switch feature also works very well, unlike with  some VPNs. The tool immediately cuts off your internet connections whenever you disconnect your VPN.

Speed test

To give you an idea of how much Private Internet Access affects your connection speeds, we carried out a few speed tests.

The first speed test shows our connection speed when no VPN is connected.

pia

After that, we then connected to a PIA server near us and got the following speeds.

pia

Finally, we connected to a VPN server far away.

pia

As you can see, PIA speeds are pretty decent, though there was a huge speed drop with distant servers.

All the tests were done using the AES-256 encryption, which is the standard protocol.

To get better speeds at the expense of security, you can switch to the AES-128 bit encryption.

This speed test was recently conducted on April 16, 2019.

Servers & Location

Private Internet Access has quite a huge network with 3300+ servers in 32 countries. The number of servers is as good as that of any other top VPN, but the distribution is something that we weren’t happy about. That number of servers distributed in just 32 countries is a sign that  PIA is limiting its concentration to the major VPN locations. Their home country, the US, has a whopping total of 1520 servers in 14 locations. The UK has 188 servers in 3 locations, Canada 216 servers in 3 locations, and Australia 195 servers in 3 locations. The other 27 countries where they have  servers have them in just a single location with the excpetion of Gemarny (2 locations). We would be glad to see Private Internet Access distribute their servers in a manner that offers more flexibility.

While doing this Private Internet Access review, we also noted that different servers have different bandwidths. You can run a test to check out the efficiency of the server.

Private Internet Access allows you to connect up to 5 devices on any server using any plan. This is generous enough, allowing you to  secure your whole family with PIA. Server switches are unlimited, as is bandwidth usage.

Features

Ad Blocker & Firewall

Among the features offered by PIA is MACE. This is a tool that blocks ads and trackers that track your internet activity. To block malicious ads and sites, MACE runs their DNS requests against PIA’s database of blacklisted DNS.

Alongside MACE is a firewall implemented on the server level. This means that you won’t have to struggle setting it up, and as long you are connected to PIA you will be protected. This firewall uses filtering and firewall capabilities available from the Netfilter project. It is able to block all unwanted traffic, keeping you safe from hackers and other third parties that may try to view  your traffic.

Private DNS Server

Private Internet Access provides security against hackers that spoof or poison your DNS cache. This is usually done with an aim to intercept your traffic and send it to a fake website in order to collect your data.

With PIA’s Private DNS, your traffic will be safe, since attackers can no longer get DNS requests from your web traffic.

Features
Smart DNS
Bypass Netflix
Onion Tow Web Address
Split Tunneling
Stealth Technology/Servers
Allow Torrenting
Automatic Kill Switch
ipv6
Open Ports

PIA Kill Switch

A kill switch is a very important feature in any VPN. The tool blocks all your internet connections whenever your VPN connection drops. It is therefore an important tool, because if you were accessing  sensitive material online and your privacy is lost, you’ll be left vulnerable to thieves, hackers, and snoops. SOCKS5 Proxy

PIA also provides SOCKS5 proxy. This technology routes your packets securely using a proxy server. It uses a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) to encrypt the channels that PIA uses when establishing connections between you and their server.

IPv6 and DNS Leak Protection

Some websites usually have IPv6 imbeds that leak a user’s IPv6 information. PIA equips its users with security against such embeds, hence preserving privacy.

DNS Leak Protection on the other hand prevents your device from sending DNS requests back to your ISP instead of your PIA DNS. When DNS requests go back to the ISP, the websites that you visit and what you do online will be exposed.

Private Internet Access (PIA) Setup & User Interface

The Website

Private Internet Access VPN Review

The Private Internet Access website is pretty good. It’s well organized and information about the VPN easily found, despite  the fact that they don’t explain all the features on the website. Under How It Works, there is some information about VPNs meant for first time users and information about PIA specifically.

At the bottom of the website are links for extra information about the various features offered.

Getting Started with PIA

To create an account with PIA, click Get Started Now from the homepage. This button will redirect you to the subscription page where you can choose a plan.

To create an account, click Sign Up Now on the pricing plan of your choice. You will then be required to choose a payment method.

Private Internet Access VPN Review

PIA Desktop Client

The PIA windows client is not the most stylish VPN client you will come across. It is, however, fully-featured and gives you a lot of flexibility.

Private Internet Access VPN Review

Available features include:

  • Kill switch
  • DNS Leak Protection
  • IPv6 leak protection
  • MACE

The PIA Windows client has some quick connection options at the system tray.

Private Internet Access VPN Review

Customization Options

With PIA, you can customize your VPN encryption, authentication, and even handshake standards. You can also determine how the VPN client behaves at various times.

Private Internet Access VPN Review

The Smartphone Client

Just like the Windows client, PIA Android app isn’t really attractive to the eye. The interface is predominantly white, and only displays your connection status, region, and your IP.

Private Internet Access VPN Review

You can, however, access a number of PIA features by clicking the Menu button, and then selecting Settings.

Private Internet Access VPN Review

You can also customize your connection encryption with the PIA Android app.

Private Internet Access VPN Review

With all PIA clients, we noticed that the default encryption standards are the faster ones that offer less security. Therefore, you’ll  need to customize your connection if you want better security. To do this, replace AES-128 bit encryption with AES-256 bit encryption, and then SHA1 authentication with SHA256 data authentication.

Compatibility

For this PIA review, we tested whether the service works with various streaming libraries  and also if it’s useful to residents living in countries with harsh internet policies.

Netflix

Unfortunately, Private Internet Access doesn’t not work with Netflix US.

BBC iPlayer

To test whether PIA can be classed as a ‘BBC iPlayer VPN‘, we connected to the PIA server in Manchester. We were not able to stream any show on the site since PIA doesn’t work with BBC iPlayer.

China

PIA VPN also doesn’t work in countries with high censorships, including China.

Devices

  • iOS
  • Android
  • Windows Mobile
  • Windows
  • Mac
  • Linux

Browsers

  • Chrome

Others

  • Android Boxes
  • Router Configuration
  • DDWRT Router

Customer support

Customer support is one of the core areas we consider when evaluating a VPN, and PIA lets us down in that area. First, the VPN doesn’t have a live chat system, unlike most top VPNs.

To contact support, you can only submit a ticket or send an email. We tested their ticket system, which is initiated at the website’s support page. Here is the form that you’ll need to complete in order to create a ticket.

Upon submitting our request, we immediately got an automated email telling us that the support staff is reviewing our query. We noticed, however, that they normally say their support is experiencing an unexpected support load, and so the response may take longer than usual.

My ticket was responded to in 10 hours 13 minutes, which is not fast. Luckily, the agent was knowledgeable and gave a good explanation.

You can also get help with answers using their FAQs and set-up guides, which are definitely above average.

Conclusion

Private Internet Access is a reliable VN service. Unfortunately, this doesn’t apply if you are looking for a VPN that works with legal streaming sites like Netflix and BBC iPlayer. Their customer support is also nowhere near the best, so if you will need to contact support regularly, you may need to look elsewhere. Nonetheless, PIA is super  stable and offers great customization options. The VPN also provides robust enough privacy and security for most people.

arrow