Use SFTP to Safely and Quickly Transfer File — Is It Truly Secure?
Nobody wants their personal data to end up in the wrong hands.
Everyone gets a sense of security when sending or transferring information in a secure manner, whether it’s business papers or personal images.
When you use a secure file transfer protocol, you may either cross your fingers or be certain that your data are being delivered utilising encryption and other security standards (SFTP).
What is the definition of a secure file transfer protocol?
A secure file transfer protocol (SFTP) is an encrypted network protocol for sending, accessing, and managing files between workstations.
Businesses that utilise SFTP may send sensitive information such as billing data, cash, and data recovery files in a secure manner. It is based on File Transfer Protocol (FTP) software and transfers files via the SSH (secure shell) protocol, requiring the client to be verified by the server for added security.
To guarantee that all passwords and sensitive information are kept private, SFTP instructions and data are encrypted so that nothing is exposed to the network in plain text, regardless of the kind of file sharing that is taking place.
Protocols such as SFTP and others
To understand SFTP better, you must first understand FTP and the SSH protocol, as well as how they vary and relate.
First and foremost, while exchanging data, a protocol is a collection of rules and principles that must be followed. Before communication between two or more computers or servers, these rules are broken down for each stage in the process. In order for networks to transfer data properly, they must adhere to the protocol’s requirements.
Let’s take a closer look at what these protocols truly entail.
- SSH Protocol: The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) initially created Secure Shell Protocol in 2006 to replace earlier, less secure shell protocols. It’s used to establish a secure link between a distant server and a computer. To offer safe user authentication and encrypted communications over the internet, it employs a public key encryption mechanism.
- SFTP: A secure file transfer protocol that is designed to be an extension of SSH.
- FTP: File Transfer Protocol (FTP) allows users to transfer files from a local computer to a website’s server. FTP is insecure, and hostile cyber assaults often target it.
SFTP and SSH collaborate to deliver encrypted data links between the client and the server, allowing passwords and other sensitive data to be safely sent across the network.
When it comes to FTP vs. SFTP, there are a few crucial distinctions to be aware of. The most noticeable distinction is that FTP does not provide a secure route for file transfer between sites, but SFTP does. Furthermore, FTP is not encrypted, but SFTP is. If you want the same level of security with FTP, you’ll need to use a virtual private network (VPN) (VPN).
What Is SFTP? SFTP vs FTP: Which is more secure?
What is the SFTP protocol and how does it work?
A secure file transfer protocol is what you require when you require a secure server to server file transmission between you and your business partners.
While it may seem hard, it is really rather simple. SFTP collaborates with SSH to provide encryption techniques that securely transfer data to the server while keeping files unreadable during the process. It then uses authentication to prevent illegal file access, ensuring that no information goes into the wrong hands and organisations have a greater degree of file transfer security.
It’s also worth noting that though SFTP operates on Port 22, it may be allocated to whatever port number you like. SFTP is also a packet-based protocol rather than a text-based communication, which makes it simpler to handle. As a result, SFTP is quicker than other protocols.
Tip: The senders and receivers of information to and from the server are identified by port numbers.
Clients and servers for SFTP
You’ll need both an SFTP client and a server before you can utilise it.
An SFTP client is required software that allows you to connect to the server. It also allows you to upload files to the server for storage, as well as download files that are already on the server. it can be an sftp host.
An SFTP server is a location where files are saved and from which you may connect and retrieve them. Users may securely store and transmit data using the server’s services. To make the connection secure, the server employs the SSH file transfer protocol. Customers may download secure files using an SFTP client if a software provider stores software updates on their SFTP server.
Connecting to a Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) server
If you want to connect to an SFTP server, you’ll need to set up password authentication or use a public/private key for authentication.
When a user needs a username and password to connect into an SFTP server, this is known as password authentication.
When you use keys, you generate a pair of public and private keys, with the public key kept on the SFTP server. The client with the private key will then check that the keys match when logging in to the server. The SFTP client will obtain access to the system after verification is completed. To provide even more protection, a password or phrase may be appended to the private.
FTP is not a viable option for business files and data since it allows anybody to view passwords, instructions, and file contents in plain text.
What is the purpose of SFTP?
There’s no doubting that SFTP is the successor to FTP, since it’s employed in a variety of scenarios where file security is paramount.
Compliance with the federal Health Insurance Probability and Accessibility Act (HIPAA), which controls protected health information, is one of the most common uses.
To safeguard all forms of data, every company or organisation that collaborates with a hospital or healthcare provider must utilise SFTP. This ensures that the data is protected throughout transmission, preventing hackers from obtaining it, and that all parties involved adhere to HIPAA compliance and standards, ensuring that no breaches of the law occur.
SFTP is also utilised to comply with data security regulations, in addition to healthcare legislation. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) may demand this level of protection before transferring files and data, depending on the kind of files and data.
Advantages of using SFTP
There are several reasons why companies want to include secure file transfer methods into their plans.
- Speed: SFTP servers are capable of handling huge file transfers as well as simultaneous file transfers at once. You’ll save time while transferring data from one server to another as a result of this.
- SFTP can protect the confidentiality and integrity of your data by using encryption, public key authentication, and data security. Data is also examined to ensure it is coming from a reliable source, and customers and sources are validated before a link is made, giving you further piece of mind.
- Manageable: SFTP allows you to simply manage your server using a web interface or an SFTP client.
- Firewalls: SFTP and firewalls are inextricably linked. A single connection to Port 22 is used to send data, instructions, and sensitive information. Firewalls with their own pre-set security settings allow this port by default.
- Metadata: Users using SFTP may access metadata about their files, such as data, time, size, rights, and other information, making it simpler to discover documents.
SFTP “Secure File Transfer Protocol” in Linux
Disadvantages of using SFTP
Because no technology is flawless, the secure file transfer protocol does have certain drawbacks.
- The keys are more difficult to maintain and check since SSH includes so many security measures.
- It may be more difficult to set correctly without the assistance of software vendors.
- Compatibility difficulties across programme titles and suppliers may arise as a result of SFTP configuration standards.
- Has a great requirements background which strictly specifies most (if not all) elements of operations
- Has only one connection (no requirement for a DATA connection)
- The connection is constantly protected
- The directory site listing is consistent and machine-readable
- The method consists of operations for consent and quality adjustment, file locking, and more capability
- SFTP is supported by Linux and UNIX servers by default
- More options than any other system
- Can perform file system operations, such as file lock, permission and attribute manipulation, and symbolic link creation
- Single data connection makes it easy to use behind a firewall
- The interaction is binary and cannot be logged as is for human reading
- SSH secrets are more difficult to handle and verify
- The requirements specify specific things as optional or suggested, which causes specific compatibility issues in between various software application titles from various suppliers
- No server-to-server copy and recursive directory site elimination operations.
- No integrated SSH/SFTP assistance in VCL and .NET structures
- No server-to-server copy
- No recursive directory removal
- Harder to configure properly
- No built-in support in .NET framework
MORE ABOUT SFTP SECURITY
Is SFTP sufficient to keep my files safe while they’re shared? We understand your concern and have created a list of methods for keeping your data as safe as possible using SFTP.
Is the SFTP transfer secure? Yes, SFTP encrypts everything sent via the SSH data stream, from user authentication to file transfers; if any portion of the data is intercepted, it will be illegible due to the encryption.
What challenges can businesses face when it comes to file transfer and GDPR compliance?
When setup properly, SFTP may assist with GDPR compliance. However, there are a couple reasons why it isn’t entirely out of the box:
- SFTP does not prevent illegal data transfers to other parties. This may lead to non-compliant data disclosures, which are in violation of GDPR confidentiality and privacy standards.
- Cross-script vulnerability is not handled by SFTP. FTP and SFTP transfers are often automated. Automation scripts and programmes, on the other hand, create an attack surface for hackers since they may occasionally disclose data outside of the SFTP application. The GDPR will be violated if data is exposed in external scripts.
- Centralized audits and documentation are not included in SFTP. To show compliance, most compliance frameworks, including GDPR, need certain paperwork. Although SFTP may contain audit logs, documenting access across numerous systems without a centralised SFTP server might be difficult and raise red flags for assessors. Similarly, documentation must abide by privacy rules, which is made considerably more difficult when using several SFTP servers.
- File and folder expiry, which is required by legislation and corporate standards, is not supported natively by SFTP. Many frameworks need automatic access automation to prevent files from being left open indefinitely.
- SFTP does not provide encryption at rest by default. This is a configuration that an administrator must create, and it is generally adjusted for various uses.
While SFTP may help with compliance in a broader sense, it is not always compliant out of the box.
What Can I Do to Ensure the Security of My SFTP Server?
There are numerous measures you may take to improve the security of your SFTP servers in order to meet compliance requirements:
- FTP should be disabled. Disabling FTP on your own server is an excellent method to eliminate a possible attack vector. Similarly, if you engage with a third-party vendor, you might inquire as to whether FTP has been deactivated and, if not, what security mechanisms are in place to secure it.
- Use the most secure encryption possible. The strongest standard encryption is now AES-256, while the strongest hash encryption to verify data is presently SHA-2 hashing. It’s simple to find an SFTP server that supports both.
- For external access, use file and folder security. When other parties need to view data during or before an SFTP transfer, have adequate procedures in place to monitor and safeguard it. This contains features like appropriate user access and identity management.
- For internal access, use folder security. Because access restrictions must be set up individually on each folders, they may be a nuisance to implement. Because most business users lack the necessary expertise or permissions, businesses often rely on these users to submit help desk tickets to IT for access control duties. The Kiteworks Platform features a solution that allows business users to establish and automate these security settings through web-based (or even mobile) self-service.
- Include audits and documentation. Most frameworks need some kind of documentation capability for things like compliance and file access. A major aspect of GDPR compliance is having a system in place to track file access and record things like user permission and other requests.
- IP blacklisting and whitelisting are useful tools. To secure data, it may be essential to simply prohibit access to your servers using blacklists, especially if there is no need to permit traffic from certain countries or areas.
- Assist your SOC team in detecting and mitigating assaults by integrating logs with your SIEM.
- External users should be required to utilise certificate-based authentication. This manner, you can make sure that everybody who logs into your system has a security certificate that verifies their identity.
- Make your SFTP server more secure. Alternatively, choose a provider that uses hardened servers (such as Accellion and the Kiteworks Platform).
- Protect the SFTP server inside your company firewall, and only allow illegal access to a proxy layer across your firewall as a DMZ.
SFTP vs. FTPS? Who wins?
So, which secure file transmission technique should you use?
According to Hagen, one is not technically “more secure” than another, “The encryption methods are different, but when correctly implemented, they may both adequately safeguard the authentication, instructions, and data transmitted. I personally believe that SFTP offers a simpler route for ‘right-out-of-the-box’ protection, but a skilled administrator can install either to a comparable level of security.“
Toledo also likes SFTP, “In general, SFTP is a better protocol than FTPS. By default, unless you are a software developer and need to add file transfer capabilities in your application, best practices would be to include support for both protocols to improve compatibility.”
- Commonly understood and utilized
- Easy to implement
- The interaction can be checked out and comprehended by a human
- Offers services for server-to-server file transfer
- SSL/TLS has excellent authentication systems (X. 509 certification functions)
- FTP and SSL/TLS assistance is constructed into numerous web interactions structures
- Communications can be read by humans, making it easier to troubleshoot a connection attempt
- Easily supported by mobile devices
- Works in operating systems that have FTP support but not SSH/SFTP clients
- Built-in support in .NET Framework
- Does not have a consistent directory site listing format
- Needs a secondary DATA channel, makings it hard to use behind firewall programs
- Does not specify a requirement for filename character sets (encodings)
- Not all FTP servers support SSL/TLS
- Does not have a conventional method to obtain and alter file or directory site characteristics
- Can’t perform file system operations
- Uses multiple ports, making firewall configuration more complicated.
Older FTP servers don’t support SSL
SFTP vs. FTPS: Why Not Both?
Some secure FTP hosting companies let you select between SFTP and FTPS. SmartFile can handle FTP, SFTP, FTPS and FTPES connections, among others.