Create a VPN tunnel and protect your privacy with Private Internet Access.
Just a few short weeks ago, the U.S. government made it possible for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to collect and sell user data without obtaining the permission of the user. This information includes but is not limited to browsing habits and personal information. Regulations had previously been in place to provide more stability to cyber security, but now those rules have been overturned. While this will probably not effect everyone in the same way, the point is that our information is no longer secure. I have to admit that the moment I heard that this decision was being passed, I immediately starting looking into VPN (Virtual Private Network) services. While it doesn’t solve the problem, it certainly protects me a lot better and it can do the same for you.
VPN or Virtual Private Network is a security method used for information privacy within private and public networks. I’ve been using a temporary VPN service for years for use when I am on public WiFi networks like McDonald’s or Barnes and Noble. I don’t like the idea that someone might gain access to my personal information by packet sniffing while I’m on an unsecured network. In case you are unfamiliar with the term ‘packet sniffer’, here is a very simple way to think about it. Packet sniffing is to computer networks what wiretapping is to a telephone network. Anyone who joins public WiFi hotspots/networks are susceptible to packet sniffers. Now, that there are broader reasons for me to protect my data, I shopped around for more permanent solutions. No matter what your reason might be, it’s important for you to have a way to keep your data secure.
Once my research was done I narrowed in on one VPN provider — Private Internet Access (PIA). PIA is a service I can happily suggest as a good option for VPN services. They have a wide variety of apps for almost all devices and the speed of the VPN service has been very reliable and fast. Since most people would be concerned with this point, I want to start this review by showing the difference in speed before and after using PIA with the image below. For me, it’s not enough of a difference to be concerned about.
There are a lot of details to look at when selecting a long-term solution for VPN provider. For the purposes of this review, I’m going to share what PIAs features are and how my user experience has been.
PIA really does a lot for the user and they rank very high with VPN provider rankings. They allow torrent traffic but it is limited to certain countries so you will need to see who you need to connect to when downloading that version of Linux off your favorite torrent site. PIA is reportedly growing their server base every day and they currently have more than 3,250 servers in 25 Countries. Even though they work through so many different countries, they are based out of Seattle, Washington. It was important to me to find a VPN company that was not based out of China or Russia for security reasons.
Here is a full overview list of their features:
- Secure VPN Account
- Encrypted WiFi
- P2P Support
- PPTP, OpenVPN, and L2TP/IPSec
- 5 devices simultaneously
- Block ads, trackers, and malware
- Multiple VPN Gateways
- Unlimited Bandwidth
- SOCKS5 Proxy Included
- No traffic logs
- Instant Setup
PIA’s services have been specifically designed to be able to operate using built-in technology that is pre-existing in your computer or smartphone. PIA operates at the TCP/IP interface level so that all applications are secured and not just your web browser.
One other thing to mention about PIA is that they are unfortunately located in a country that is a member of Five Eyes, an intelligence alliance composed of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. This alliance is bound by a multilateral UKUSA agreement for joint cooperation in signals intelligence. This alliance essentially spies on the World’s communications. That said, it’s important to note that PIA does not log any user information. They do this in case they were ever forced into something. PIA addressed this issue head-on in an FAQ located on their website. Here is a brief excerpt of their statement.
With the added security of end-to-end encryption and with nothing logged that can identify our users, with public court records to show for it, the question remains what to do if PIA is coerced into something – or rather, if authorities try to coerce PIA into something, such as was the case with Yahoo recently, when the NSA had forced it into spying on its own users.
There is a precedent for this, and it is Lavabit choosing to shut down operations instead of selling out its users (specifically, selling out Edward Snowden). That’s also exactly what Private Internet Access has already done once, when Russia demanded that we start logging our users’ identities, after seizing PIA servers.
Click here to read the full article.
As I mentioned above, PIA provides apps for nearly every type of user. They make it very easy to create a secure connection with their services. For example, the iOS app opens up on a single screen that is a toggle button for having your VPN tunnel on or off. Once you have your account set-up in the settings menu, this first screen is all you really need. Even the account set-up is easy. When you purchase a subscription, a username is set up for you and then you select a password. Then, when you connect your devices through the various apps, you simply enter that account information and you are set.
I have the same type of UI experience with the Mac app. It’s a menu bar utility and when you click on the PIA icon, the first two options in the menu are ‘connect’ or ‘disconnect’. When you select your chosen option, a notification will appear on your screen once you are connected/disconnected to let you know your status. Before you connect, you can select which country you want to connect if you want something other than what you set-up in the settings area. The same is true of the iOS app.
One thing I would like to note here is that you don’t have unlimited connections to your VPN tunnel through PIA. You can connect up to five devices at one time to PIA’s servers, but that’s it. For me, this is enough for most of my family. PIA’s apps and UI have been painless to use so far and I’ve not had any issues getting a tunnel started when I need it.
I have had just a couple of minor issues with their service that I contacted their service team for. I’m happy to say that I got a quick and detailed response of potential solutions from PIA support. Here are just a couple of problems I’ve had.
- You can’t watch streaming content like Netflix on your devices while you have your PIA VPN tunnel connected. The content is blocked. This is easily fixed by just shutting down your tunnel while you watch videos, but that sort of defeats the purpose of having the VPN set-up.
- Email servers are sometimes blocked by PIA’s service. When I was having issues sending out emails while connected to the VPN tunnel, I contacted PIA’s support and got this in response: We do initially block customers from sending over the VPN service but I’ll explain. Any VPN provider that does not retain logs must block outgoing SMTP traffic due to rampant spam associated with usage of VPN services. This is necessary for the security and privacy of our customers, and we apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. They will whitelist any outgoing mail servers that — a) require authentication, and b) are correctly setup so as not to be an open relay.
There are many companies providing VPN services and when you are searching for one that will work for you, you need to be cautious about what they provide. PIA has been a really reliable service for me so far and I don’t have any major complaints. When searching for VPN providers you will be digging through a massive list of mixed reviews, one place that you can trust to find a detailed list of VPN services is That One Privacy Site They have a great comparison chart of many different VPN providers.
There are many reasons you would want to protect your privacy online. No matter the reason it’s important that you have a way to do it. From sitting at a coffee shop using public wifi to using your own home internet service and keeping your
friendly ISP from collecting data to sell. There are many reasons to own a good VPN. If you have the means and knowledge to ‘roll,’ or create your own VPN, you will have the best possible protection. But, for most users, finding a reliable VPN provider that they can trust is key.
Private Internet Access is a solid solution for most types of users. My advice is to weigh all your options carefully and make sure you are secure no matter what service you choose.