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Overcoming Common File Transfer Protocol Challenges
Does your organization commonly use old methods of FTP (file transfer protocol) to share data? Unfortunately, this mode of data sharing comes with a number of challenges, some of which may be a threat to your business. Learn more about five common challenges companies face when using FTP, and find out how you can overcome these issues.
5 Common Challenges and Solutions of FTP
Security is one of the biggest concerns users have with FTP, and security is often a decision-making factor for companies that choose not to use FTP. Unfortunately, security is becoming a bigger and bigger issue as threats continue to grow. High-profile data breaches seem to become more common each data, with large numbers of files exposed to unauthorized users. In terms of security, basic FTP transfers fall short.
Basic FTP transfers are pretty easy to intercept, and once they’re intercepted, they can be read by anyone as they are in plain text. Even if you took the time to encrypt something in the past, even that encryption is easy to decipher. Because files sent via FTP are so easily deciphered, your entire system could be at risk due to the threats you’re exposed to by this type of file sharing.
Using FTP can make your systems vulnerable to the following kinds of attacks:
- FTP Bounce Attack - The hacker intercepts the FTP transfer, requests access to two ports, and uses one of the ports to gain discreet access to the target’s systems.
- Brute Force Attack - The hacker uses software to guess a user’s password through repeatedly trying different combinations. This type of attack can happen over any protocol, though -- including FTP, FTPS or SFTP.
- Packet Capture - The hacker uses a computer program to intercept FTP transfers and scan the plain text for usernames and passwords. This is the primary vulnerability with the unencrypted FTP protocol.
- Spoof Attack - The hacker uses an external computer to pose as one using the host address for unauthorized access to the internal network.
- Port Stealing - The hacker identifies the pattern in port numbers, successfully guesses the next number, and gains access.
While additional measures like data encryption and firewalls can help avoid these types of attacks, the root problem of using a non-secure (i.e. unencrypted) mode of file transfer like FTP still exists.
The best way to easily and securely transfer files is by using a hosted FTP solution. These solutions usually have a number of security measures built in, making them ideal for use if your company handles sensitive data. These servers generally support multiple protocols that provide additional layers of security like FTPS, SFTP and HTTPS.
In fact, many of these solutions even offer compliance-level security measures. So, if you’re subject to any of the following regulations, you need to avoid basic FTP transfers and use a more secure hosted solution:
Key features like data encryption, dedicated firewalls, and intruder protection offer the security needed to ensure data won’t be compromised. And, using a hosted solution from a security expert will save you lots of time and money versus a do-it-yourself approach.
2. Restricted Access
Closely connected to file security is file access. Using old FTP methods of the past made it impossible to know who was accessing files and for what purpose.
Older or non-secure file sharing processes make it nearly impossible to restrict access to your data. There was no transparency into who was uploading, downloading, and sharing files. Plus, if your organization was using an on-site server, there was no way to access that server from a remote location. You had to be in the office on your desk computer to connect to the server. In terms of both data access and access to the server itself, traditional FTP users were limited.
A hosted cloud platform like FTP Today solves both access-related problems. First, you can assign administrative roles, and those administrators can control who is allowed access to which files. Also, because this is a cloud platform, you users can securely log into the platform from anywhere, as long as they have internet access and are using an approved device to do so.
Is your organization growing? Can it scale with you or will you have to find a new software? In terms of both cost and viability for your business, you need to an FTP site that is flexible to meet your needs.
As your business grows, your business needs change. An FTP site that works for your business today may not meet your needs for the future. However, an inability to scale with your business could mean increased costs and inconvenience.
Using a hosted FTP site can accommodate your scalability needs. As your business grows, you can work with your FTP vendor to instantly increase the number of user accounts and storage space. The reverse is also possible. If you no longer require the number of current user accounts, your vendor can make reductions as needed.
4. Loss of Data Control
Control over data means your administrators have the power to set guidelines for how data is used. Establishing your own standards for data usage means you always have control over how data is used and who is using it.
Sharing files via FTP offers little control over data. Once the file is sent, the sender has no control over the file, both in terms of how it is used and who is using it. The sender can’t control how long the downloaded copy will be kept by the recipient. While this is a challenge, it’s not a challenge unique to FTP. This is true even with secure FTP alternative like FTPS or SFTP.
Leaving the basic FTP mode of file sharing behind is the best action if you want to gain control over your data. A hosted file sharing solution generally has controls built into the solution, giving administrators the power to manage data usage. Using FTP Today, for example, you have the ability to limit file access by user, share files via expiring links, restrict access based on user IP address, and more.
5. Limited Reporting
The file sharing process you establish should enable easy and accurate reporting. Unfortunately, while FTP logs activity, it does not provide reports. Sifting through logs can be challenging and time consuming.
While FTP facilitates a simple transfer from sender to recipient, problems occur when there’s a disruption to the transfer. If a file is intercepted or an error occurs during transfer, FTP cannot report this information to you, and if a data breach occurs due to this failed transfer, you won’t be aware of the source of this breach.
Another reporting challenge has to do with FTP’s inability to provide status updates about information that you’ve sent or received. You won’t be altered to any problems with a transmission, meaning you won’t know if you should resend data or be concerned about a breach. Additionally, if a transmission is successful, you won’t receive a notification informing you of that either.
Instead of using the basic FTP protocol to facilitate transfers, you can use a file sharing solution that provides the reporting capabilities you need. A top solution like FTP Today enables you to create on-demand reports outlining everything you need to know about data transfers and user activity. You can run reports on activity from up to 90 days ago. If that is not far enough back, you also have access to detailed log files (better than standard FTP logs) with an unlimited history of all activity. You can also create email notifications to alert you about everything from new uploads to user activity in a specific folder.
Ultimately, a hosted secure file sharing solution is the best option for your file sharing processes. Using the basic file transfer protocol can expose you to a number of risks that could put your company in jeopardy. You’ll feel confident in your file sharing processes if they’re facilitated by a secure solution you can trust.
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About Martin Horan
Founder of FTP Today and an expert in secure file transfer and Internet protocols. A software and IT geek since a young age, Martin has successfully led his companies through the digital age by spotting market niches and filling them with quality IT services.