NordVPN and PIA both offer secure VPN protocols and encryption ciphers, including WireGuard and AES-256. We didn’t record any IP or DNS leaks with either VPN, and both services include a functioning kill switch. Though their security offerings are similar, only NordVPN offers obfuscated servers and double VPN.
Our encryption and security tests found that NordVPN and PIA are both safe to use, offering the most secure VPN protocols and encryption ciphers. NordVPN wins in this category, though, as it has some additional security features that set it apart from PIA.
The table below gives a quick summary of NordVPN and PIA’s encryption and security performance:
|Encryption & Security Rating
||WireGuard & OpenVPN
||WireGuard & OpenVPN
||AES-256 & ChaCha20
||AES-256 & ChaCha20
PIA allows you to customize the encryption cipher
NordVPN and PIA allow you to use WireGuard or OpenVPN on all devices – two of the fastest and most secure VPN protocols. We recommend using WireGuard (or ‘NordLynx’) for unblocking content, and OpenVPN when maximum security is the priority.
For OpenVPN connections, both services use AES-256 encryption. For WireGuard, both VPNs encrypt traffic using ChaCha20. AES-256 and ChaCha20 have no known vulnerabilities.
If you have enabled it in the app’s settings, NordVPN will choose the best protocol for you based on your network and location. We’d prefer it if PIA had this feature, too, as you can’t always be sure you’re getting the best performance.
If you connect using OpenVPN, PIA gives you granular control over the encryption that the VPN uses. You can choose whether to use AES-128 or AES-256 for encryption, as well as RSA-2048 or SHA-384 for the handshake operation.
Unlike NordVPN, PIA allows you to manually choose the level of encryption used.
This is an excellent feature for advanced users to tailor the encryption exactly to their requirements. However, NordVPN’s overall simplicity is better for most casual VPN users.
Both VPNs include IP & DNS leak protection
NordVPN and PIA passed all of our tests for IP, DNS, and WebRTC leaks.
As you can see in the screenshot below, both NordVPN and PIA hid our real network details in the UK:
NordVPN and PIA prevented our IP or DNS from leaking.
Both VPNs operate their own DNS servers too, so your ISP doesn’t see your web requests.
NordVPN & PIA have a working kill switch on all platforms
To stop your IP address from leaking if the VPN connection fails, there are kill switches in both NordVPN and PIA. They’re available in the Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android apps. NordVPN also has Linux VPN software with a kill switch.
To test whether the kill switches were functioning correctly, we deliberately disconnected our VPN connection while running an IP checker tool. Both PIA and NordVPN protected our IP address every time.
NordVPN and PIA passed our kill switch tests.
Whereas the kill switch is an option you can turn off and on in PIA’s iOS app, on NordVPN it’s automatically enabled and invisible.
NordVPN gives you more control than PIA because it offers an app-specific kill switch, as well as an internet kill switch that blocks everything if the VPN connection goes down. We recommend you use the internet kill switch because it’s safer.
PIA has a unique kill switch feature that blocks your internet connection until the VPN app launches.
PIA MACE blocks more ads than Threat Protection
NordVPN and Private Internet Access include an adblocker with the VPN subscription. These block adverts and trackers on popular websites, like YouTube, Google, and Facebook.
Our investigation into VPN ad blockers found that PIA’s ad blocker, named PIA MACE, is the best on the market. It blocked 80% of the ads we tested it with, as well as 100% of analytics trackers.
NordVPN’s ad blocker, called Threat Protection, was a close second. Still, it blocked 20% fewer ads than PIA MACE, as well as 36% fewer analytics trackers.
You can see how the two ad blockers compare head-to-head in the charts below:
PIA MACE blocks more ads and trackers than NordVPN Threat Protection.
NordVPN includes more advanced security features
Both NordVPN and PIA offer additional security features, including VPN split tunneling, diskless VPN servers, and SOCKS5 support for faster torrenting.
We’ve found NordVPN to be more fully-featured than Private Internet Access on the whole, though.
Here are some advanced security features that NordVPN has that are missing from PIA:
- Obfuscated servers to circumvent censorship
- Double VPN for enhanced privacy
- Colocated servers for greater server privacy and security
- Onion over VPN for easy connections to the TOR network
On the other hand, the only major security feature that PIA has that NordVPN doesn’t is open-sourced apps. This means that anyone can view the code running Private Internet Access, decreasing the risk of any glaring security vulnerabilities.
While we wish NordVPN had done the same, the sheer number of advanced security features it includes means it beats PIA here.