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Private Internet Access Review – Only The Paranoid Survive

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I bought a 1 year subscription to Private Internet Access (https://www.privateinternetaccess.com) about three months ago in order to protect my privacy when traveling and to ensure that my information was protected at my house.  I live in a high density neighborhood where I can see at least 10 WiFi access points from my laptop. At home I regularly check my router logs to ensure there are no new users but I’m paranoid that someone will hack in and cover their tracks.

Private Internet Access gives you access to VPN clients in many countries. They assign you a username and password when you sign-up and this is used to log into their servers worldwide. They state that they keep no logs and store no data. However take this with a grain of salt and avoid passing sensetive information via non-HTTPS connections. For additional protection you can daisy-chain your own server in the flow to get more privacy.

I chose Private Internet Access because they were highly rated at the VPN sub-Reddit, they have a representative on Reddit answering questions, and because they offer clients for all major operating systems.

So far I’ve had no issues and they say they don’t throttle bandwidth.  My usage is light but I have a feeling I might be restricted if I tried to pull 10TB of data through their servers.

Cost:

Private Internet Access is relatively cheap.  At one year, it is cheaper than hosting your own VPN server and definitely much less hassle.  A one-year subscription costs $40, one month is $7, and six months costs $36.  It is apparent that they steer you towards the 1 year plan.  They occasionally have discounts so keep your eye on the Reddit VPN page.

Android Client:

The Android client is very easy to use. Its usage can be summarized in three steps:
1) Download and install from the Android Play Store
2) Launch app and enter your username and password
3) Click the ‘Connect’ button

You can optionally select a server but it defaults to picking the fastest host.

A nice feature is that the app shows the current up/down transfer rate as well as the total usage for that session. However when transitioning from wireless to the cell network and vice-versa the app introduces additional delay as it gets disconnected and needs to re-authenticate with the VPN server. This is annoying because it usually happens when I’m walking out of a building checking my messages or getting directions.

PIA Android Login Screen

PIA Android Login

PIA Android Select Server Screen

PIA Android Select Server

PIA Android Status Screen

PIA Android Status Screen

Windows Client:

The Windows client is equally easy to use. Installation and execution can be summarized in four steps:
1) Download from Private Internet Access
2) Run executable
3) Enter your password
4) Run

PIA Windows Screen

PIA Windows Connect Screen

PIA Windows Login Screen

PIA Windows Login Screen

Linux Client:

Linux client setup proved to be difficult. Rather than providing a client, PIA provides instructions to perform the setup. While the instructions worked in a graphical Ubuntu VM on my laptop, they do not work on my non-GUI DigitalOcean VPS. I was able to figure out an alternate way to perform the setup however it took a lot of digging. It would be nice if PIA incorporated instructions for manual setup and connection on their site.

Pros:

  • Privacy
  • It is cool to connect to server in Romania and see the Google Romania page show up.  However using it is impractical due to latency
  • Multiple sites around the world to reduce delay wherever you go
  • Easy setup

Cons:

  • Android client introduces delay as it re-authenticates when transitioning between data providers
  • Private Internet Access says they don’t log data and that they would reject PRISM monitoring requests.  Take this with a grain of sand and always encrypt your data!  This does not guarantee that your data is not being monitored at PIA’s outgoing ISP or that your home computer does not have a keylogger.  Or if they are really watching you!

Final Thoughts:

It is hard to see if connecting to Private Internet Access is protecting me. I’ve used it at home, around town, and when traveling in hotels, coffee shops, and airports. As far as I know none of my data has been compromised. I think it is hard to see if it effective, but it is an additional layer of protection and you protect yourself just by being more difficult to hack than the next guy. Ultimately the only way to be safe online is to not go online!

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Written by M Kapoor

July 4, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Fixing Windows White Screen of Death Caused by Malware

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I recently had an issue on my Windows 7 Lenovo x230 laptop where it would boot up normally, let me log in normally, and then briefly show me the desktop before going to a solid white screen.  When shutting down or logging off, I would again briefly see the desktop before my session ended. After some searching I found that this is a common type of malware and that it can be removed by booting up in safe mode with command prompt and then going back to a system restore point.  Here is what I did:

1) Right before the Windows Boot screen comes up, press the F8 key to bring up the Boot in Safe Mode Menu

2) In the Safe Mode Menu, select the Safe Mode with Command Prompt option

3) The system will then boot into Safe Mode and you will see a Command Prompt window.  In the Command Prompt window type %systemroot%\system32\restore\rstrui.exe to bring up the system restore menu.

4) Follow the prompts and restore to the earliest system restore point on your system.  This will take a few minutes.

5) Reboot your computer.  If you had the same issue I had then you should now be able to use it normally.

One last thing to consider is to go into the Programs and Features menu in the Control Panel and uninstall any programs you installed recently.  A new program is often the source of malware since the install often requires you to give Administrator access.

Written by M Kapoor

June 27, 2013 at 7:22 pm