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Why Do People Still Use FTP Sites?
Martin Horan

By: Martin Horan on May 6th, 2020

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Why Do People Still Use FTP Sites?

FTP Solutions

File sharing options and acronyms can often be overwhelming to keep track of as the digital world continues to advance. With so many to choose from – FTP, SFTP, FTPS, HTTPS, EFSS, Collaboration Systems and more – it can be a challenge to distinguish between the options and select the best one for your organization. This is why so many companies default to using FTP (file transfer protocol) – one of the oldest and most basic forms of sharing data via the Internet.

FTP Today became the first company in the world to offer the technology of online managed file transfer via FTP and related protocols in 2001 and we have been dedicated to improving and advancing our products to match the changing landscape in data sharing. 

This article will focus on the most common solution for file sharing – FTP – and help you understand if it is a solution you should be using or not.

Is FTP Still Used?

In short, yes, people are still using FTP sites to send and receive files. However, the original file transfer protocol (FTP) is unencrypted and it’s not a file-sharing solution designed for today’s more advanced security standards or compliance requirements.

Although there are numerous alternatives to FTP, many continue to use FTP to share files. That begs the question: why use FTP when there are other options with greater security on the market

There are a couple of different reasons. First, it has been around for 25+ years now and it is therefore compatible with many, many systems. Second, companies or their employees may just not be aware of the risks of non-secure data sharing. Many underestimate the abilities of hackers, or they have a false sense of invincibility – “that happens to other companies; not ours.” 

Should You Use an FTP Site?

If other companies are using FTP to share files, should you? No, you should evaluate your organization’s needs on their own. Regardless of your organization, FTP is not the best option for today’s file-sharing requirements or data security standards. Instead of using FTP to send files, it’s wiser to use a secure FTP solution like FTPS or SFTP to transfer data. In the same way that an outdated computer couldn’t keep up with your business needs today, FTP can’t either. 

Here are some reasons you should avoid using FTP sites to share files:

  • FTP isn’t encrypted. When files are shared over FTP, files are sent in plain text. This means that all information associated with the file transfer is visible to anyone, including sensitive details like your username and password. Without any encryption or protection, your data is easily accessible to anyone with even the bare minimum hacking skills. 

There’s really no solution when it comes to FTP’s lack of security. FTP alone can’t protect your data. Even if you invest in separate encryption software for the files you want to send, your login credentials are transmitted over the internet in clear text. Also, once you’ve invested in encryption software, it then becomes your organization’s responsibility to manage your encryption keys and encrypted data. This is no small undertaking.

  • FTP isn’t convenient. FTP requires a third party application (FTP client) to be installed on the user’s computer. Though some like Filezilla are free to download and install, some companies frown upon their employees installing third party apps, either altogether or at least without going though the IT department. FTPS and SFTP are the same in this regard.

However, while “FTP clients” in general, which includes FTPS or SFTP capabilities are not as convenient as say a web browser, they still have the advantage of being able to automate file transfers and remote-to-local file synchronization.

  • FTP isn’t compliant. Your company, like many others, is probably subject to some sort of compliance guidelines. Businesses in industries like healthcare, banking/finance, aerospace, and defense all face regulations related to data security. Since there is no transmission encryption associated with FTP, sharing files this way isn’t compliant with any of these regulations. If you face any of these compliance mandates, it’s wise to avoid sharing files using FTP and move to a more secure method. 

In fact, even though using FTP to send files is free, it could potentially cost your company tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in noncompliance fines. You could also lose business, deal with the repercussions of a damaged reputation, or in the most extreme cases, face criminal penalties. 

Choosing between convenience and security is no longer an option for most companies. Security should always be a higher priority, which means you should avoid FTP and ensure your employees are doing the same.

FTP vs. FTPS or SFTP: What’s the Difference?

So, if using FTP is no longer an option for your company, what is the best way to share files? FTPS (FTP over SSL) and SFTP (or SSH File Transfer Protocol) is a great option for companies that want to ensure files are protected when they’re sent to both internal and external users. 

How exactly does FTPS work? FTP is still the baseline for FTPS, but there’s an added layer of SSL encryption security that prevents unintended parties from intercepting details in plain text. SFTP uses SSH (or secure shell) encryption to protect data in transit. There is no exposure to the Internet and you can trust that your files are only accessible by the intended recipient. You should also consider adopting an SFTP solution for your employees to use. Working with a top solutions provider guarantees that your files are protected and you have a team of data security experts managing your solution. 

While it may be difficult to break the habit of using FTP sites to send files, it’s important that you have a uniform, secure way for employees in your organization to share data. Research your options carefully and choose a top vendor to help you protect your most sensitive data. 

Do you want to learn more about your file-sharing options? Download this Comparison Guide for a comprehensive view of some of the most popular solutions on the market. 

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.

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