You probably take for granted that no one else is sneaking a peek at your Web traffic and that the websites you visit respect your privacy. Unfortunately, both of these are from certain. That’s why you should get a virtual private network (or VPN) service such as Private Internet Access. It’s one of the best VPN services out there, offering many advanced features, thousands of servers to choose from, support for file sharing services, and an interface so unobtrusive you might forget it’s there at all. For all that, Private Internet Access is a PCMag Editors’ Choice winner among desktop VPNs.
That said, the minimalism of Private Internet Access is sure to be a turnoff for some. Those in search of a friendlier, more informative user interface should consider fellow Editors’ Choice winners KeepSolid VPN Unlimited $4.99 at KeepSolid and NordVPN.
What Is a VPN?
Your computer carries an IP aaddres that can be used to figure out the geographic location of your ISP’s data center. For many of us, it’s pretty close to our actual geographic location. VPNs let you change your geographic location by overriding the IP address assigned by your ISP with one drawn from its pool of servers. Considering, for example, that Facebook is blocked in China and some YouTube videos are blocked in Germany, being able to change where you are from can be useful. Political activists and journalists have long used VPNs for just this purpose.
Perhaps more important for the average user, is that using a VPN service encrypts all online traffic and ensures that your data remains hidden from third parties when on an open wireless network. This means that the next time you’re browsing the Web using the coffee shop’s Wi-Fi, you might want to switch on a VPN to make sure no one else is watching.
Note, however, that VPNs only protect your data in transit. If the destination site is not using HTTPS, that part of the connection remains unencrypted, and attackers can use complicated timing algorithms to intercept and identify data at that point. Even so, if you’re using a VPN service at your coffee shop, at the very least you won’t be the lowest-hanging fruit, and that’s who the average hacker is likely to target.
Also Read: Is Bluestacks Safe App For Laptop Or PC
Features and Pricing
Private Internet Access has three billing options, starting at $6.95 for a month; you can also get a six-month plan for $35.95 or a year of service for $39.95. If you’re looking to save money, the annual plan is a remarkably good value. I really like that all of the tiers provide the exact same features, and don’t restrict advanced tools for the higher-paying customers.
Private Internet Access offers excellent value, but it’s not the cheapest VPN on the market. Spotflux Premium costs a mere $4.99 a month, and Editors’ Choice winner KeepSolid VPN Unlimited offers a one week plan for $1.99. There are also many worthy free VPN services to choose from.
Purchasing a subscription to Private Internet Access can be done in several ways. The company accepts payments via Amazon, Bitcoin, CashU, Google Wallet, OKPay, PayPal, and Ripple accounts, as well as credit cards. If you’re concerned about the government’s increasing levels of surveillance and uncomfortable with using anything that could be traced back to you, this is one way to go. Private Internet Access also accepts gift cards from 90 different retailers, including Starbucks and Bloomingdales. Should you ever tire of Private Internet Access, your account page has a large Cancel button, which is handy.
Private Internet Access doesn’t offer a free version. That’s unfortunate. I’d like to see one added in the near future. Spotflux and TorGuard $9.99 at TorGuard, by contrast, both have strong paid and free products.
Your Private Internet Access subscription entitles you to five licenses, which you can use across any device. The company offers clients for Windows and macOS. You can also take your VPN on the road with the Private Internet Access Android app and the Private Internet Access iPhone app.
Alternatively, you can purchase a router with Private Internet Access software preinstalled. This is a great option, since your single license can protect every device connected to your router. I’m happy to see that the list includes some of the best routers, such as the Editors’ Choice-winning Linksys Smart Wi-Fi Router AC 1900 (WRT1900AC).
If you’re keen on installing a VPN on devices besides smartphones and computers, some services go even further. TorGuard VPN, for example, sells Apple TV and Roku streaming boxes with its software preinstalled. Other services merely provide instructions on how to protect other devices.
With a subscription to Private Internet Access, you get access to the company’s 3,268 servers spread out over 24 countries. Some VPNs, like Steganos Online Shield, only have servers in a handful of countries. Private Internet Access, on the other hand, has some of the best geographic diversity we’ve seen with servers in Asia, Central America, Europe, India, South America, the UK, and the US. It doesn’t offer servers in any African nations, but that’s unfortunately not unusual for VPNs. Numerous servers means that you’re more likely to find an uncrowded one to serve your needs, while numerous server locations means that even when you’re traveling you’ll be able to connect with ease.
Also Read: 8 Sneakiest Spy Gadgets of All Time
Note that while Private Internet Access used to support servers in Russia, it no longer does. This change was in response to new laws in that country that Private Internet Access felt would have prevented the company from adequately protecting user privacy. Other VPN services have weighed in on the issue, but Private Internet Access is among the very few to cease Russian operations entirely.
Private Internet Access currently supports PPTP, OpenVPN, and L2TP/IPSec protocols, and it can also give users access to a private DNS server. This latter feature is great, since clever attackers can still glean your Web traffic from DNS requests. A SOCKS5 proxy is also included, and users can rest assured that Private Internet Access does not log their movements.
Like many of its competitors, Private Internet Access uses OpenVPN SSL technology to create its encrypted tunnel. The website has information on how to set up a PPTP connection using the built-in Windows VPN client. If you don’t want to download the software for Private Internet Access, you can use the instructions for downloading the OpenVPN configuration files and importing into an OpenVPN client, much as you can with the free VPNBook service.
Also Read: Latest Music Player For Android Phones
Unlike its competitors, Private Internet Access allows the use of P2P file-sharing networks and BitTorrent on its servers. NordVPN and TorGuard also allow file sharing, although the former limits you to specific networks.
There’s also a Kill Switch, which shuts down applications should the VPN be suddenly disconnected. Other VPNs that include this feature require you to select the applications to shut down, but Private Internet Access goes the extra mile of simply cutting off all Internet communications. That way, none of your information is accidentally transmitted in the clear.
Private Internet Access recently added an ad- and tracker-blocking tool called MACE. When engaged, this specifically blocks pesky advertisements plastered across Web pages and trackers that allow companies to track your movements across the Internet. Of course, some might balk at the idea of blocking ads since doing so makes it harder for media companies, ranging from webcomic artists to decades-old technology review websites, to earn a living. If you’re of that mind, consider the Electronic Frontier Foundation-created Privacy Badger. This smart blocker only blocks trackers and only those that are successfully tracking you. It also offers fine controls in its settings, giving you more say over your Internet experience. It’s worth noting that of all the VPNs I have reviewed, only Spotflux Premium also blocks ads.
It’s important to remember that blocking ads isn’t just about saving yourself from annoyance or the ever-encroaching presence of late-stage capitalism. Savvy attackers will sometimes purchase ads from legitimate advertising networks and use them to launch “malvertising” attacks. In a blog post, Private Internet Access explained that its product blocks ads and trackers by running DNS requests through a black list. According to the company, “PIA doesn’t do anything besides block domains associated with advertisements, trackers, and malware at the DNS level.”
Getting Started and the Interface
I downloaded the Windows version of Private Internet Access from the company’s website and installed it within seconds to my Dell Latitude E7250 laptop $1,375.30 at Dell Small Business running Windows 8.1. I received new login credentials in the purchase confirmation email, a practice that gives you extra anonymity but may be confusing for novices. If you really want to up your security, consider using a disposable email address to receive your login information.
The interface is minimal to the point of being nearly nonexistent. There is a login window, which also acts as a settings page for things such as the encryption type, the servers to connect to, and proxy information. Everything else is buried in the system tray icon’s right-click menu. When you’re connected to a Private Internet Access server, the icon glows green. If you’re disconnected, it’s red. And if the software is trying to establish a connection, the icon is gray.
The lack of interface means there is no way to see error messages or any other kind of feedback for the user. You can tell by looking at the system tray icon if you are connected to the service, but there is no text message or a status window clearly indicating whether you’re connected or not the way other services do. There is no detailed logging information, nor can you see what IP address the service has assigned you—something practically every other product provides.
Not getting any feedback can be frustrating for first-time users. You just have to trust that it’s working. Experienced security wonks, however, will appreciate having a VPN that stays out of the way and doesn’t waste resources on fancy graphics. This is probably Private Internet Access’ most divisive aspect. If you feel more comfortable with a traditional GUI, you’ll prefer my other Editors’ Choice, NordVPN $3.29 at NordVPN – 2 year plan. Thankfully, Private Internet Access also offers 24-hour live chat support in case you’re confused.
Also Read: Iphone Stuck On Apple Logo 5 Trick To Solve
Speed and Performance
Regardless of the VPN you use, it will affect your Web browsing speeds. There’s no way around it. To gauge the level of that impact, I compare the average results of both speedof.me and speedtest.net, the latter of which is owned by PCMag’s publisher Ziff Davis, to a baseline test. Because network conditions are notoriously mercurial, I perform the baseline tests immediately after the VPN tests.
Because Speedtest.net allows me to select a test server, I always use a server located in Fairbanks, Alaska. Speedof.me does not give me that flexibility, and instead uses whatever test server is nearest to my apparent IP address.
In the Speedtest.net evaluation, I found that Private Internet access increased latency by 290 percent. That’s on the higher end of the results I’ve seen, and is beaten easily by Hotspot Shield Elite $4.99 at AnchorFree, at just a 127 percent. I also found, however, that Private Internet Access reduced download speeds by 23.6 percent, one of the best scores I’ve seen, and chopped upload speeds by 50.9 percent. Those are good scores, but F-Secure Freedome did even better, reducing upload speeds by only 7 percent and download speeds by 31 percent.
Also Read: 3 Best Android Launcher For Free
VPNs don’t always hurt your download speeds. In fact, PureVPN $9.95 at PureVPN improved download speed by over 166 percent in my testing! ExpressVPN $8.32 at ExpressVPN boosted download speed by an impressive 23.5 percent, too. These are unusual results, however.
Using the average results from Speedof.me, I found that Private Internet Access increased latency by 1,023.1 percent. That’s not unusual for this test—F-Secure Freedome increased latency by over 1,500 percent—but several services performed better; PureVPN only increased latency by 669.8 percent. Speedof.me showed far less impact on download and upload speeds; Private Internet Access reduced these by 7.2 and 4.7 percent, respectively.
Some of these numbers look quite dramatic, but it’s important to remember that metrics like latency are measured in milliseconds. In my experience, hands-on impressions are far more important, and Private Internet Access performed extremely well in this regard. Videos on YouTube played at 720p by default, and I’m pleased to say that videos loaded in 4K over the VPN connection. Playback wasn’t smooth at 4K, which isn’t surprising. Only TorGuard performed comparably well in my video tests.
Normally, I try to load Netflix videos as well. Unfortunately, I received an error warning from Netflix saying I would have to shut down my proxy in order to view videos. Netflix and similar services have been blocking VPN services to prevent users from beating regional limitations on usage by changing their IP addresses.
Also Read: The Banned Games Across The World
The Simplest Security
Most people think about antivirus and ransomware when they think about digital security (if they think of it at all), but network attacks are becoming increasingly common. With government spooks, hackers, and advertisers all hungry for our personal information, VPN is bound to become a more critical and common tool. And Private Internet Access is among the best, offering a robust collection of features in a feather-light package for less than the price of a Netflix subscription.
That said, the service’s minimal presence on your computer can be a little daunting if you like more hand-holding with your utilities. And it’s not easy on the eyes, either. If you prefer a slick interface that offers a little more reassurance and explanation, then Editors’ Choice winners NordVPN and KeepSolid VPN Unlimited are for you. But if you want excellent features and that you won’t ever have to look at (as well as an affordable price and live support) then you want Private Internet Access, one of my Editors’ Choice winners for VPN services.