A network protocol dating back to 1970s, the File Transfer Protocol or FTP is used to send and receive digital data files on a computer network between a specific client and server. While it is known as the classic method of sharing large files when companies collaborate, FTP has its risks and shortcomings when it comes to data security.

What is FTP and how does it work?

FTP is constructed on a type of architecture known as the client-server model and uses separate data and control connections between the server and client. FTP users can authenticate themselves with a sign-in protocol using a clear-text. This commonly comes in the form of the classic combination of password and username, but it can also make a connection anonymously if a server configuration is used to enable this function. To allow a secure transmission protecting both password and username, and encrypting all content making it indecipherable, FTP is often found defended by SSL/TLS (FTPS) or efficiently replaced using the SSH File Transfer Protocol (SFTP).

The initial FTP client applications used were command-line-type programs that were created prior to operating systems featuring graphic user interfaces, to this day they are still included with a wide variety of well-known operating systems such as Linux and Unix. Today, multiple FTP automation utilities and clients have been designed for mobile devices, servers, hardware and desktops, and FTP has also been included into apps aimed at enhancing productivity like HTML editors.

Security risks of FTP

Fundamentally, FTP is unsafe and does not feature encryption. All passwords and usernames are sent using pure text and it was never designed for secure file transfer. Any data transferred using an unencrypted method is at risks from potential eavesdroppers. This means that not only can your data be accessed during transfer, but your company systems can be also. Along with this, FTP can also be exploited for spoof, bounce, and brute force attacks.

The importance of secure file transfer

When sensitive material is being shared, it is critical that firms make sure the included content is only viewed or used by individuals and entities with the authority to do so. Incidents where security measures fail and documents containing private details are disclosed and exploited are deemed data breaches and carry weighty consequences. The financial costs of data leaks can be crippling for companies. Data regulators can issue massive fines, while data subjects may take legal action if their information is exposed. The cost of system downtime while breaches are investigated, and vulnerabilities resolved, must also be calculated, not to mention the long-term negative impact to an enterprise’s reputation.

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