Private Internet Access Review 2021

The Private Internet Access VPN provides exactly what its name implies: private access to the internet.

Aliza Vigderman, Senior Editor Gabe Turner, Chief Editor
Private Internet Access VPN
Editors Rating:
8.6 /10

What We Like

What We Don't Like

  • Headquartered in the U.S: PIA’s Denver headquarters means it’s part of multiple international surveillance alliances, so the company has obligations to share customer data with the government when necessary.
  • Mixed customer support reviews: We got quick responses from the company sometimes, but other times, we had to wait for days.

Bottom Line

With some VPNs, private browsing on the internet isn't truly private, but that's not the case with Private Internet Access. It didn't log any of our browsing data, so we could surf the web freely, watch Netflix, and torrent files.

It’s Sunday. You’re at a coffee shop, hoping to get some work done on your laptop. After finding out the Wi-Fi password, you log into the shop’s public network. Is your data still protected?

In theory, a VPN would protect your browsing data by encrypting it and sending it through servers in different locations. Today, we’re reviewing Private Internet Access (PIA), a U.S.-based VPN with a strict no-logging policy.

We’ll go over its features, subscription information, customer support systems, and app. Most importantly, we’ll be putting PIA through tests to make sure it’s up to our standards for speed and data leakage. Ready to see what PIA offers?

Features

Logs data No
Kill switch Yes
Split tunneling Yes
Netflix Yes
Torrenting Yes
Editor's Rating
Overall Rating
8.6
  • Doesn’t keep websites accessed or IP addresses
  • Kill switch protects web traffic even if VPN fails
  • Torrenting allowed

Video Review

More of a visual learner? Check out this video review that our Chief Editor, Gabe Turner, made about Private Internet Access.

About Private Internet Access

private-internet-access-vpn-review
Private Internet Access Screenshot

The first thing you should know is that PIA’s headquarters are in Denver. Not that we don’t love Denver, but we’re a bit surprised about the company’s location. You see, the U.S. is a member of the Five Eyes alliance. This means that the U.S. government has the legal power to obtain consumer information from companies within its borders for uses such as criminal investigations.

Other member countries of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances may also request information from U.S.-based companies. That’s why we usually prefer VPN companies from non-member countries of those international alliances, such as Panama or Switzerland.

Here’s what else you should know about Private Internet Access— it has thousands of servers in 78 countries. Although PIA stopped providing the total number of servers it runs, last we checked, it had about 12,000, and that was still in mid-2020.

The amount of servers, as well as their locations, matters a ton. You want to be as close to a server as possible for a fast internet connection. If you live in the U.S., you’ll be glad to know that PIA focuses on its U.S. servers specifically, which the company optimized for faster browsing and streaming. At the same time, you want servers in many different countries to access geo-restricted content or to change your Netflix region.

Features of Private Internet Access

There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and the same can be said for VPNs. Sure, all VPNs create a private network that encrypts data and IP addresses, but not all VPNs are equal. Let’s find out if Private Internet Access is up to snuff.

Will Private Internet Access Log My Data?

Private Internet Access emphasizes the fact that it does not log browsing data of any kind. That means the company will have no idea when you’re using the VPN and for how long, what your IP address is, or what sites you have been visiting.

So what does PIA log? Well, according to its privacy policy1, it logs personal information that it needs to maintain user accounts, including:

  • Email addresses
  • Payment information, but not your full credit card details
  • Cookie identifiers
  • State or territory of origin and zip codes of users

None of the personal and non-personal data that PIA collects relate to users’ IP addresses, browsing data, and web traffic. If you wish to learn more about PIA’s privacy policy, check out our Private Internet Access privacy report.

Does Private Internet Access Have A Kill Switch?

A kill switch, otherwise known as a “network lock feature” or “disconnect protection” means that any software or website will shut down automatically if you lose your connection to the VPN. Thus, it stops your internet access from switching to public networks, which would result in your internet service provider (ISP) seeing your entire browsing history.

For example, if you’re torrenting using a VPN and then your VPN suddenly disconnects mid-download, your ISP will see what you’re doing. That could get you in trouble. With a kill switch, your torrent session will stop as soon as your VPN disconnects. We’re pleased to say that Private Internet Access does provide a kill switch with its software.

What Kind of Tunneling does Private Internet Access Offer?

The Private Internet Access VPN can use split-tunneling on Windows, Mac, and Linux, as well as on Android under the name Per-App Settings. Split tunneling allows us to use the VPN’s encrypted tunnel while letting some traffic go through public, unencrypted networks.
How is that useful? Well, for instance, we like to listen to top local hits while doing research. We use PIA’s encrypted tunnel on our browsers to hide our online activities, while simultaneously, we connect Spotify to the unencrypted tunnel so it can detect the top hits where we are.
Split tunneling can also be useful for:

  • Apps, such as some online games that block VPN IP addresses
  • Online banking websites that block certain IP address regions
  • Streaming services that don’t allow VPNs

Can I Use Netflix with Private Internet Access?

We like to think of VPNs and Netflix as a tug of war. Sometimes the VPN wins, sometimes Netflix wins, but each side is constantly trying to outdo the other.

Although Private Internet Access doesn’t restrict access to Netflix itself, Netflix does attempt to block VPNs whenever possible. Therefore, we cannot guarantee that PIA will work with Netflix, although it did work when we tested it. You should, however, be able to torrent files, a nice alternative to Netflix.

DISCLAIMER: Whether you’re using a VPN or not, it is illegal to download unsanctioned copyrighted materials over torrent networks.

Private Internet Access Encryption

VPN Encryption
VPN Encryption

To put it simply, encryption changes your text into inscrutable code. It’s what prevents people from accessing your data, the entire point of VPNs. Private Internet Access lets you choose your encryption methods.

Private Internet Access Suggested Encryption

Default Recommended Protection All Speed No Safety Maximum Protection Risky Business
Data Encryption AES-128 None AES-256 AES-128
Data Authentication SHA1 None SHA256 None
Handshake RSA-2048 ECC-256k1 RSA-4096 RSA-2048

Now let’s talk about what each of these terms means.

Data Encryption

For the encryption itself, you’ll choose between the Advanced Encryption Standard of 128 or 256 bits. 256-bit is the current standard of the National Institute of Standards and Technology2, while 128-bit is a bit outdated. However, if you want to prioritize speed, which we don’t recommend doing often because of security risks, 128-bit still provides better protection than having no encryption at all.

Data Authentication

VPN Hashing Algorithm
VPN Hashing Algorithm

Authentication means making sure that the right person is accessing the network.

SHA stands for a Secure Hash Algorithm. What’s a hash exactly? It’s basically a key that VPN servers use to encrypt and decrypt data. SHA uses algorithms that the sender, which is your computer, and the receiver, which is the VPN server, share, so both could decrypt encrypted data.

Hashes are irreversible, meaning you can’t work backward to figure out the algorithm, and each and every hash is unique. SHA-1 was the first version of the algorithm, and as the first pancake in the batch, it’s inferior to later versions. In fact, in 2016, Google found that some hashes from SHA-1 aren’t unique, a huge security issue.3

SHA-256, on the other hand, means that it has two to the two hundred and fifty sixth-power possible hashes. That’s more than a trillion and even more than a septillion.

The more possible number of hashes there are, the smaller chance the hacker has at creating the same hash. So yes, SHA-256 is going to be way more secure than SHA-1.

Handshake

RSA SecurID, named after its founders, is responsible for making sure you are who you say you are and controlling who has access to your data. RSA can use different types of multi-factor authentication, from a push notification to biometrics, to make sure the right person is accessing the software.

There is some debate about the key length among software engineers. In a nutshell, the higher the key, the better the security is. RSA-2048 has 16 percent fewer bits of security than RSA-4096, but 4096 will use more power, particularly on the central processing unit (the brain of the computer). Therefore, the higher the key, the more computing power your VPN will take up.

The question now is, is RSA-2048 still a reliable encryption method? According to latest research, the worst-case scenario is that a 20 million-qubit supercomputer could decrypt RSA-2048 in eight hours. However, the fastest supercomputers today have only around 70 qubits, such as Google’s supercomputer built around its Sycamore processor.5 A 20 million-qubit supercomputer is still a distant dream, so RSA-2048 is far from obsolete.

Aside from the RSAs, you can also choose ECC-256k1, which stands for Elliptic Curve Cryptography. In short, it’s a newer method of encrypting data that performs better than both RSA-2048 and RSA-4096. ECC also uses an asymmetric encryption algorithm and usually outperforms RSAs in terms of speed and memory. Remember, 256-bit is our industry standard for encryption, so if you’re looking for the best, ECC-256k1 is where it’s at.

Private Internet Access Protocols

Protocols determine how VPNs transmit data across networks. Think of them as different routes that you can take to get to a destination. Some routes will be faster than others and some will be safer than others, so Private Internet Access uses a combination of different protocols to achieve both speed and security.

PPTP

Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol, or PPTP, has been in use since the 1990s. Rather than doing the encryption itself, the PPTP creates tunnels that will encapsulate the data packets. It works with a second protocol that will perform the actual encryption. On its own, PPTP is not super secure.

IPSec/L2TP

Think of IPSec and L2TP as Batman and Robin. While L2TP, otherwise known as Layer 2 Tunneling Protocol, generates the tunnel, IPSec handles encryption, makes sure the tunnel is secure, and checks that the data has arrived intact. IPSec, short for IP security, either encrypts only the data packet message or the entire data packet. Together, they create a VPN client that’s highly secure.

SOCKS5 (Proxy)

SOCKS5 is a proxy that will assign you a new IP address before it takes you to your location. While SOCKS requires less bandwidth than a typical VPN, it doesn’t encrypt data and is thus less secure. That’s why Private Internet Access uses SOCKS in conjunction with encryption methods, detailed above.

OpenVPN

OpenVPN is an extremely common VPN protocol. It’s great at bypassing firewalls, an essential quality of a VPN, but it won’t slow down your internet too much.

The reason we love OpenVPN so much is that it’s open-source, not made by a company. The VPN community is constantly tinkering with OpenVPN to make sure that surveillance agencies aren’t tampering with it. Sounds ideal to us.

Testing Private Internet Access

Now that we’ve given you a pretty detailed overview of Private Internet Access’ technical specifications, we’ll detail how we put this VPN through tests.

FYI: Our complete guide to VPNs details our VPN testing process, a good read if you’re interested in testing VPNs yourself.

Speed Test

The first thing we tested was the speed. All VPNs will slow down your internet a little, but some VPNs offer better speeds than others.

Like all the VPNs, we tested PIA from our Brooklyn office. We tested it both on our Macbook Air and Vivobook running Windows 10, which we both connected to our Optimum network. Here are the results.

Download Speed Tests

Mac
Without VPN 37.05 mbps
With VPN 12.93 mbps
Windows
Without VPN 72.48 mbps
With VPN 61.67 mbps

Clearly, Private Internet Access had a much larger effect on the Mac’s download speed, slowing it down by a pretty dismal 65 percent. On Windows, however, PIA only slowed down the download speed by 15 percent. Note that there are a lot of different factors that affect download speeds and internet speeds in general, so take these test results with a grain of salt.

Upload Speed Tests

Mac
Without VPN 25.9 mbps
With VPN 18.12 mbps
Windows
Without VPN 41.37 mbps
With VPN 39.13 mbps

Now let’s talk about upload speed. Again, the Windows performed better than the Mac, with only about a five percent decrease compared to the Mac’s 30 percent. Clearly, Private Internet Access is a better VPN for Windows users over Mac users— but let’s confirm that with latency.

Ping Speed Tests

Mac
Without VPN 14 ms
With VPN 14 ms
Windows
Without VPN 12 ms
With VPN 16 ms

Ping, another word for latency, is measured in milliseconds, so we’re getting into extreme detail here. Amazingly, Private Internet Access did not create any latency on the Macbook Air, and it only increased latency by about a third on the Windows computer. From these tests, we can conclude that Private Internet Access is a decent VPN for Mac but great for Windows in terms of internet speeds.

DNS Leak Test

DNS Leak Test
DNS Leak Test

A domain name server is basically the URL that you type in when you want to go to a website. Each domain name server, or DNS, stands for an IP address. Think of DNS as a description, like “the big yellow house on the corner,” as opposed to “123 Main Street,” which equates to the IP address.
We want to make sure that Private Internet Access isn’t leaking our DNS outside of the encrypted tunnel. Fortunately, when we tested it, we didn’t detect any leaks. So far, so good!

WebRTC Leak Test

WebRTC allows two web browsers to communicate with each other directly rather than going through a server. It creates faster speeds, particularly when you’re live streaming video, sharing files, or video chatting. However, it does require knowing each other’s private IP addresses, so it’s something to look out for, especially if you use Chrome, Firefox, Opera, or Microsoft Edge.

Just like the DNS leak test, we want to make sure that PIA protects our browsing data, including our IP addresses, from WebRTC leaks. The verdict? No leaks! All in all, Private Internet Access passed our tests with flying colors, save for the Mac download speed.

Private Internet Access Subscriptions

Finally, we’re getting to what many want to hear about all along: subscriptions and pricing.

Options

Length of contract in months Cost per month Total cost
1 $9.95 $9.95
12 $3.33 $39.95
36 $2.19 $79.00

With any of Private Internet Access subscription plans, you’ll be able to switch in between an unlimited amount of servers on an unlimited amount of devices. However, you’ll only be able to use ten devices simultaneously. As you can see, the plans range from a little more than two dollars a month to about 10 dollars a month, extremely affordable. The longer the term length, the lower your monthly cost will be.

Keep in mind that Private Internet Access does offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, so if you absolutely hate the VPN but you signed up for a two-year plan you can get out of it. This money-back guarantee is similar to the 30-day trial period that comes with every subscription from ExpressVPN, our current top pick.

BONUS TIP: If you’re still not sure if Private Internet Access is the right VPN for you, try it out with the $9.95 monthly subscription first. If things work out, a long-term subscription will save you a lot of money.

Private Internet Access Customer Support

There are few things more frustrating than having to call customer support for a technical issue. It could take all the calming yogic breaths not to have a full-on temper tantrum. So when looking at VPNs, we want to make sure the customer support is there before we download anything on our computers.

Features

You can get support from PIA through its online knowledge base, or to get in contact with someone, you can fill out a form or live chat with an agent. The live chat feature was useful, in particular.

There were wait times of a few minutes, particularly on weekdays, but that’s better than waiting for days for email support to respond. More importantly, we got accurate and clear answers to the questions we asked. Unfortunately, there’s no phone support, but we’re more than happy with the support options PIA provides.

The Private Internet Access App

private-internet-access-vpn-review
Private Internet Access App

The Private Internet Access app is available on an iOS app and an Android app. The app has great ratings, a solid 4.7 rating from iPhone users and 4.4 stars from Android users. It also appears that PIA does a good job at keeping its mobile apps up-to-date. As one long-time PIA user wrote in his App Store review:

“I am impressed. Everything about the app has been improved, and it works extremely well… This app works in the background very effectively and at a low cost in terms of battery. I can now definitely recommend this service and this app as being top-notch.”

Store Private Internet Access app rating
Google Play 4.4
The App Store 4.7

Private Internet Access Vs. Windscribe

Feature Private Internet Access Windscribe
Log Data No No
Kill Switch Yes Yes
Split Tunneling No Yes
Netflix Yes Yes (U.S. & U.K.)
Torrenting Yes Yes
IP Addresses Anonymous, Dynamic Anonymous, Static, Shared

To see how PIA fares against the competition, we’re comparing Private Internet Access to Windscribe, a similar VPN. Unlike Private Internet Access, which has one of the strictest no data logging policies around, Windscribe keeps the total amount of bytes you’ve transferred in the last month, plus a timestamp of your last activity. This is a little more data to save than necessary, but fortunately, Windscribe won’t store your source IP address or any of the sites you visited.

As you can remember, the only types of personal information PIA stores are email addresses, partial payment information, cookie-identifiers which you can modify, and location information. This information is pretty standard, and in fact, Windscribe collects this as well.

In terms of features, the two VPNs are toe-to-toe. Both have split tunneling, kill switches and strong encryption standards. As far as internet speed goes, however, Private Internet Access has Windscribe beat.

You can learn more about Windscribe’s performance in our Windscribe review. Neither VPN connection had any DNS or WebRTC leaks, which is a good sign.

Due to its superior data logging policy and speed, we’d pick Private Internet Access over the Windscribe VPN service.

Recap of Private Internet Access

Overall, Private Internet Access is a really solid choice of a VPN with great security features.

I’d recommend Private Internet Access if you’d like…
  • No traffic logs: PIA is committed to its privacy policy when it comes to users’ data.
  • Speed on Windows: Private Internet Access worked really well on our Windows computers in particular.
  • Highly-rated app: Private Internet Access has great ratings both from iPhone and Android users.
However, avoid Private Internet Access if you don’t like…
  • So-so-speed on Mac: You can definitely find VPNs that work better on Macs than Private Internet Access.
  • Headquarters in U.S: Although the company won’t log your browsing data, member countries of the Five Eyes, Nine Eyes, and 14 Eyes alliances could force it to hand over whatever data it has.
  • Weak customer support: With no phone or live chat feature, you could wait a while to hear back from customer support.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do you still have questions about PIA? We’ve got all the answers you need, and then some.

  • Is Private Internet Access a good VPN?

    Private Internet Access is a good VPN with thousands of servers across almost 80 server locations. While the VPN doesn’t log web activity or IP addresses and uses AES-256 encryption, the privacy-conscious may want to steer clear of Private Internet Access because it’s a U.S.-based company, and the U.S. is a founding member of the Five Eyes alliance.

  • What type of VPN is Private Internet Access?

    Private Internet Access is a VPN for personal use. There are no business subscriptions available, only subscriptions that support 10 simultaneous connections, which family members can share.

  • How does the Private Internet Access VPN work?

    The Private Internet Access VPN works by routing a user’s internet connection through one of its servers, which encrypts web traffic and replaces the device’s IP address. That means that the user’s internet service provider will no longer be able to see what websites they visit or their public device IP addresses, meaning that the user is essentially anonymous online.

  • Does the Private Internet Access VPN keep logs?

    No, Private Internet Access does not log a user’s web activity, their device IP address, how long they used the VPN or any other usage information. Private Internet Access only keeps logs of email addresses, partial payment information, cookie-identifiers, and location information.

Editors Rating:
8.6 /10
Citations
  1. PIA. (2021). Private Internet Access Privacy Policy.
    privateinternetaccess.com/privacy-policy

  2. Federal Information Processing Standards. (2001). Announcing the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES).
    nvlpubs.nist.gov/nistpubs/FIPS/NIST.FIPS.197.pdf

  3. Google Security Blog. (2017). Announcing the first SHA1 collision.
    security.googleblog.com/2017/02/announcing-first-sha1-collision.html

  4. Cornell University. (2021). How to factor 2048 bit RSA integers in 8 hours using 20 million noisy qubits.
    arxiv.org/abs/1905.09749

  5. Forbes. (2019). Has Google Actually Achieved ‘Quantum Supremacy' With Its New Quantum Computer?
    forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2019/09/27/has-google-actually-achieved-quantum-supremacy-with-its-new-quantum-computer/?sh=11d264ad4d45