PIA review: A fast and secure VPN, but Netflix users need not apply

PIA VPN $$2.91 a month The Good Good security features • Lightning-fast internet speeds • Easy to use • Great for torrenting The Bad No Netflix The Bottom Line If you want security while surfing the web and fast internet speeds for torrenting, PIA is a great choice for your VPN. Mashable Score4.25 Cool Factor4.0 Learning Curve4.0 Performance4.0 Bang for the Buck5.0

Now that we‘re coming out of the other side of all the , odds are you’ve probably taken a deeper interest in your own online privacy. 

One way of securing your online privacy is by using a to hide your online activity. But, you may find it hard to choose the with so many available. 

Private Internet Access (PIA) is a VPN that combines solid security features with lightning fast internet speeds. These, combined with an easy-to-use app, P2P support, and relatively cheap price, makes PIA one of the best VPNs you can use.

It’s a secure VPN, but there’s a catch

The words “VPN” and “security” should always go hand in hand. Secure web browsing is, after all, the primary reason we use VPNs in the first place. But, since all VPNs promise to provide that security and keep our identities and information safe, figuring out how well the deliver on that promise requires us to look closely at the details of a VPN’s features.

Having done that, I gotta say, aren’t bad. 

First, it has something called an “IP Cloak,” which masks your real IP with one of their own anonymous IP addresses. This feature keeps sites and your ISP from tracking your internet traffic and your geographic location. It‘s a standard feature among all VPN,s but some just do it better than others.

In PIA’s case, they do it a bit differently by issuing you a new U.S.-based IP address and substituting your real location after getting securely connected.

Next, let’s talk encryption. The thing is, it’s getting easier for hackers and spammers to access our data with all the new software that debuts every day. It’s gotten to the point where our data is in danger even if we’re using our own home WiFi. This is why you’ll need a VPN with strong encryption. 

PIA uses 128-bit encryption by default. This encryption is good, but it could be better. They do give you the option of using the industry standard military-grade 256-bit encryption, which is technically more secure but will also slow down performance quite a bit. Given , it‘s hard to make the case that it‘s really any better, though.

What PIA does differently, though, is it allows you to choose the encryption level on your data authentication and your handshake. While the default setting for these two options are SHA1 and RSA-2048 (which already makes them tough to crack), you can go all the way to maximum protection with SHA256 and RSA-4096 at the cost of lowering your performance. (For a good breakdown of what all these terms mean, check out .)

PIA also provides different protocol options to choose from. These are: OpenVPN, PPTP, and IPSEC/L2TP (which are all industry standards).

PIA adds another layer of protection in the form of its server-grade firewall and the filtering capabilities of the . These two work in tandem to keep network intrusions out. The only connections that enter are those that you allow.

It was also good to know that PIA has a built-in kill switch that kills apps whenever your internet connection is interrupted. This is an important feature among VPNs, and one I always look for whenever I review them.

To make things better, PIA doesn’t keep any logs on your internet traffic. Reading the fine print of its Privacy Policy will show that it collect some information but this is just part of standard practice. 

Now that we’ve established PIA’s security features, do they hold up to testing?

Spoiler: Yes.

DNS leak test

First of all: What is a DNS leak and why should anyone using a VPN care? 

Every time you search for something on the web, your browser sends a request via your ISP which then connects your request to the server you’re looking for. You’d be right to think that your ISP or any server you searched for can view and monitor the sites that you visited. 

A VPN channels your request through an anonymous IP first before sending your request to your ISP thus ensuring the security of your online habits and traffic. Without a VPN your request would go directly to your ISP. So your “trusted VPN” knows all the requests for all the websites and searches you are making. 

Now let’s say your ‘trusted VPN’ starts leaking your information that went through it — your online activity could become readily apparent to anyone prying about. That‘s why it’s important to test VPNs to see if they are leaking your data or have any vulnerabilities.

A DNS Leak occurs when a VPN client such as PIA starts making lookups using the DNS server of my real ISP at the time when I am connected to the PIA VPN. That‘s bad.

The process I used to run the test is simple:

  1. I connected my computer to PIA VPN and navigated to a DNS Leak test tool (there are a ton of them out there; I like to use one that isn‘t affiliated with any specific brand). 

  2. I pressed a button and the test took about 30 seconds to complete. The test essentially checks to see if any of the IP addresses or hostnames are the same as the IP address and hostnames of my real ISP — in other words, is PIA using DNS server of my real ISP or is it masking everything through its own?

I tried the same test using four different tools. 

The good news: PIA has no leaks!

Here are the results: 

DNS leak test 1: All lookups go through PIA‘s VPN server and not the DNS of my real ISP

DNS leak test 2: All lookups go through PIA‘s VPN server and not the DNS of my real ISP

DNS leak test: 3 All lookups go through PIA‘s VPN server and not the DNS of my real ISP

DNS leak test 4: All lookups go through PIA‘s VPN server and not the DNS of my real ISP

These results are promising especially when coupled with the fact that PIA is free of malware.

So, PIA has secure features and no leaks or viruses. What did I mean when I said there was “a catch”?

PIA is based in the United States which means it falls under . 

A country inside this jurisdiction has agreed to analyze and share intelligence with other countries in the jurisdiction. The governments of these countries can then command a company to surrender any data they have in their possession—including your data. 

There is, however, a silver lining to all of this: PIA promises not to log your data. This means that even if PIA is made to surrender all of their data, they won’t have any of your personal data because it doesn‘t keep it.

All in all, PIA is secure enough.

Lightning fast and easy to use

Speed is truly where PIA excels at. I’ve gotten used to the experience of my internet speed slowing down while using VPNs — it’s often just the consequence of getting more security. 

Keep in mind, a VPN’s speed is based on the physical distance between your browser and their server as well as the number of active users at the time. So, it shouldn‘t come as a surprise when the popular VPN you’re using slows down every now and then. 

This is why I was ecstatic to find that PIA wasn’t just fast — it was lightning fast!

Here are the benchmarks from my tests:

US Server (New York)
Ping: 118ms
Download: 77.56 Mbps
Upload: 36.75 Mbps

EU Server (Amsterdam)
Ping: 41ms
Download: 81.46 Mbps
Upload: 40.30 Mbps

Asia Server (Hong Kong)
Ping: 283ms
Download: 69.98 Mbps
Upload: 13.04 Mbps

UK Server (London)
Ping: 48ms
Download: 75.67 Mbps
Upload: 23.00 Mbps

With a performance like that, I can confidently say that PIA has to be one of the Top 3 fastest VPNs today.

Also, it currently has 3,314+ servers in 30 countries around the world. This means it’s easy to maintain these speeds in almost any region in the world.

Speaking of performance, I really like PIA’s app. It has a quick-to-learn interface and provides you with all the settings options in the “Settings” page. Navigating through all these settings is just a matter of scrolling down.

Once you’ve registered for an account on their site, watch your email for the confirmation. 

Now, they do give you a pre-generated username and password that could be a hassle to memorize but if you installed their client by clicking the “customized links” they give you, you’ll find that these clients come pre-configured with your username and password — which saves you the hassle of writing them down inputting them separately. 

Overall, PIA’s installer was easy to download for both my computer and on my phone. Everything took just a few minutes. 

PIA can be used on that runs Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, or iOS. They also have extensions for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera. Also, you can use your single account simultaneously between any five devices.

However, there is one thing to note: while you can use PIA almost anywhere in the world, it‘s an American company still has to respect embargoes set by the U.S. Hence, you can’t use PIA in any of these regions: the Crimea region of Ukraine, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, or the Taliban-occupied parts of Afghanistan.

It’s also difficult to use in China, what with their Great Firewall and all. But, you can still use it there if you use L2TP connections (which you can set up by following the IPSEC/L2TP links that they have on their site). Do note that this setup will use a different username and password aside from those used for your PIA VPN. 

Great for torrenting but not Netflix

Now, with all the download speed that PIA grants its users, it’s become somewhat of a torrenting-specialized VPN. They’re a great choice for torrenting because they don’t monitor your connections—including peer-to-peer file sharing. Heck, they even tout this feature on their website. 

That being said, I found it a bit of a let-down when I found that . 

It’s a cheap VPN, especially in the long run

When it comes to price, PIA is easily one of the cheapest VPNs today. This is especially true if you choose its two-year plan which nets you a whopping 58% discount for every month. 

Here are the plans PIA offers:

  • $6.95 per month for a monthly plan.

  • $3.33 per month for a yearly plan.

  • $2.91 per month for a 2-year plan.

Conclusion

PIA is a secure, cheap and fast VPN that I recommend. If you want security while surfing the web and fast internet speeds for torrenting, this VPN is a great choice. The only major issue to keep in mind about PIA is that Neftlix will not work with this VPN.