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One of the more popular options in the VPN space is Private Internet Access. It made a name for itself by being notoriously cheap at around $40 per year, despite its desktop interface being kind of terrible at the time. These days you won’t find PIA as cheap as that, but the desktop app is a lot nicer. Plus, you get a ton of country options, good speeds, and for power users the ability to tweak your connection security.
Note: This review is part of our best VPNs roundup. Go there for details about competing products and how we tested them.
Private Internet Access: Security, software, servers, and speed
Unlike a lot of other desktop apps, PIA allows users to adjust some of their encryption options beyond just the protocol. By default, PIA uses OpenVPN over UDP, AES-128 data encryption, GCM for data authentication, and RSA-2048 for the handshake.
If you want to change any of that, you can switch UDP to TCP, and data encryption can be changed to AES-256 (CBC or GCM), as well as AES–128 (CBC). If you choose one of the CBC options, you’ll also be able to customize your data authentication and handshake. GCM, however, only lets you adjust the handshake.
The macOS app for PIA is very similar to the Windows version. It’s a long single column accessible from the top right of the screen in macOS. There’s a large power button to turn your VPN connection on and off, and below that is the current country connection.
Expand the window, and you can see a section with customizable quick connect options (for up to five different countries), the current performance of your connection, total bandwidth used, and some icons to quickly access parts of PIA’s settings.
Overall, it’s a great and simple app that offers enough information for power users, but organized in such a way that novices can ignore it entirely to avoid confusion.
When you dive into the various country connections, you can see the ping times from each country to your location. We love this feature as it allows you to choose the fastest connection possible. For some countries there is only one region option, while others such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and the United States, have multiple options with ping times for each.
PIA doesn’t offer much in the way of extra services. The only thing other than the various connections is PIA Mace, an ad, tracker, and malware blocker. This feature is off by default, but you can turn it on at Settings > Privacy. There’s also a VPN kill switch that shuts down your internet connection if you lose contact with the VPN. That way your online activity won’t be revealed outside of your secure connection. It’s a nice feature, but remember these features are not 100 percent effective at hiding your true location from third parties.
PIA offers more than 3,000 servers in 32 countries. It supports up to 10 simultaneous connections at once, which is fantastic. Most services offer up to five or six maximum. Ten is more than enough to cover most people’s devices at home.
PIA is owned by London Trust Media, which is based in Denver, CO. Its chairman is Andrew Lee and the CEO is Ted Kim. PIA doesn’t keep logs and writes all user data to /null, a directory that doesn’t exist—meaning the data is discarded. This promise has been tested in court twice, and both times PIA proved to be unable to provide any significant user logs. The most recent case was in 2018, as reported by TorrentFreak.
PIA supports apps for Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.
During speed tests, we saw some pretty good results. They weren’t always jaw dropping, but they were decent overall. Speeds were particularly good in the U.S., UK, and Germany.
PIA has three pricing tiers. A one-year subscription will set you back $72 per year, which is a little on the high side, but it does let you connect up to 10 devices at once, which makes the higher price more palatable. If you want to make a two-year commitment it will cost $84 (about $42 per year), and a month-to-month commitment is $10 per month. The month-to-month option is typically high among VPNs to encourage users to choose a one- or two-year commitment. If you’re really intent on a month-to-month optio, I recommend looking at Mullvad, which is $6 per month as of this writing.
PIA is a great service, with a more generous simultaneous device allotment than most services. It also has a good number of country options, a very large server count, and a tested reputation for protecting user privacy. If you need a simple, no-nonsense VPN option PIA is a great choice for both novices and power users.
Editor’s Note: Because online services are often iterative, gaining new features and performance improvements over time, this review is subject to change in order to accurately reflect the current state of the service. Any changes to text or our final review verdict will be noted at the top of this article.
Ian is an independent writer based in Israel who has never met a tech subject he didn't like. He primarily covers Windows, PC and gaming hardware, video and music streaming services, social networks, and browsers. When he's not covering the news he's working on how-to tips for PC users, or tuning his eGPU setup.