The performance and security of a VPN can largely be determined by the VPN protocols it employs. ExpressVPN and PIA use IKEv2 and OpenVPN, which are both regarded as the best options on the market for privacy and security. IKEv2 is mostly used for mobile devices or when regularly switching between networks, while OpenVPN acts as the baseline protocol for users looking for maximum security.
While OpenVPN and IKEv2 are solid options security-wise, they aren’t going to be the fastest, which is why both VPN providers offer protocols specifically built with speed in mind. PIA users have WireGuard as an option, which does a good job at increasing speeds while still providing strong security.
ExpressVPN developed its own protocol called Lightway. Generally speaking, proprietary protocols such as Lightway have an advantage over nonproprietary ones because they are designed from the ground up to work optimally with the VPN provider’s system. They usually deliver faster speeds and impeccable security—both of which apply to the Lightway protocol.
Both ExpressVPN and PIA use the gold standard for encryption today, AES-256, which has never been cracked. ExpressVPN also provides users with ChaCha20—a simpler encryption algorithm that provides higher speeds than AES-256.
PIA provides more customization in the encryption category than ExpressVPN, where users are able to choose among five encryption options: no encryption (with IP spoofing still enabled), two types of AES-128 and two types of AES-256. The default encryption for PIA is set to AES-128, which has proven to use fewer system resources than AES-256.
Both AES-128 and AES-256 are undecipherable, so advanced PIA users can benefit from tweaking these settings to optimize their system performance while not taking any significant hit to security.
PIA offers premium antivirus software that can be added on separately from the VPN subscription. The antivirus protects from malware, ads and trackers and receives regular web shield and virus definition updates. The best savings for the software is found in the longest subscription, which breaks down to $1 per month for a three-year subscription. Other subscription options include $2 per month for a one-year subscription or $4.50 per month for a monthly subscription.
While antivirus may not be front-of-mind for some, users looking to invest in a complete security package can find significant value when adding the antivirus package onto their PIA subscription.
Malware and Ad Blocking
ExpressVPN and PIA both provide their own forms of malware and ad blocking. ExpressVPN uses Threat Manager, and PIA uses MACE—both of which are effective tools for combating ads, tracking and malware.
Email Breach Scanner
PIA comes with a free tool, the Email Breach Scanner, which can be used to check if your email address has come under attack from any security breaches.
DNS Leak Protection
When you’re using a VPN, ideally your traffic and DNS requests are routed through a secure, encrypted tunnel to the VPN servers. However, there are some scenarios where your DNS requests might end up going to the wrong place—namely third-party DNS servers that could expose your browsing history and even IP address. This problem might occur because of misconfigured networks, security vulnerabilities, software flaws or when moving between networks.
Both VPN providers offer a form of DNS leak protection as well as kill switches, which will cut your internet traffic entirely whenever your connection to the VPN servers is broken. They will only reconnect when the VPN servers are available again.