VPN in Ubuntu with PIA (Private Internet Access)

I had a scare when I logged into Facebook on a cafe wifi in Berkeley last week. Then I learned that if you use Linux, you should not buy your VPN from PIA. Keep reading.

Almost immediately after signing in to the cafe wifi I get a text message from Facebook about a failed login. The kind of message I get when I fail logging in to the second factor. So I check the security logs on Facebook’s settings page, and sure enough somebody on a Windows 7 computer had been trying to access my account. I live in Silicon Valley and nobody I know runs windows (yes, the stereotype is true) so it was suspect. Somebody was snooping the cafe wifi and was trying to hack into my accounts! If I didn’t have 2FA enabled then my email and my FB and other accounts would probably be compromised right now.

So when I got home bought a VPN account so that my internet connection will be secure and encrypted in the future. A friend of mine has a PIA account and recommended it. It was black Friday so I go to bitcoinblackfriday.com and find a 50% off deal and sign up anonymously using bitcoin. The purchase went fine, running their install script appeared to go fine, but every time I tried to connect it would time out. I disabled my firewall, still no connection. I searched their documentation and found a .zip file with .ovpn files. I ran those from commandline and they had TLS connection errors. Time to email tech support.

Tech support responded with an automated email suggesting that I try restarting the network manager and changing the port numbers. I spent a long time trying all the numbers suggested and none of them worked. I emailed back with my results, as well as some pretty detailed logs from my attempts on commandline. I got bumped to tier II support which gave me a new .zip file to download with new .ovpn files, and they tell me that they only support a comically ancient versions of Ubuntu. I’m not on the latest cutting edge version, I’m on the enterprise-support version: 14.04TLS. Anyway, these new configurations worked. So I deleted the previous setup from network manager and manually imported the new .ovpn files into network manager. Now, after a few hours, my new PIA VPN is up and running. When my subscription runs out I am going to chose a different VPN provider based on whether they are not incompetent on Ubuntu.

So, if you are an Ubuntu user struggling to get PIA working here is what you do: download https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/openvpn/openvpn-ip-tcp.zip and extract it into a folder you won’t delete, then manually import the .ovpn files for the VPN locations you want to use. Then manually import them into network manager by clicking “configure connection” then clicking “add” and choosing “import from config file”. Select the file you want, enter your username and password. Now you too can connect to the VPN.

If you are from P.I.A. and you’re reading this. Please, for the love of cute kittens, do not tell people that you only support Ubuntu 10.10 and 12.04  because 10.10 isn’t even supported anymore. You wouldn’t tell people you only support Windows XP. It’s easy to just update your documentation to have people import the .ovpn files with TCP that actually work. Also, please know that I would recommend anybody with Linux to stay away from your service.