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Alternative Solutions for Secure FTP Services: Which Option is Best?
Martin Horan

By: Martin Horan on September 27th, 2017

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Alternative Solutions for Secure FTP Services: Which Option is Best?

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For decades, companies have relied on FTP (file transfer protocol) as their basic method of transferring files. However, as data security became a larger and more urgent issue for many companies, a number of alternative FTP solutions arose to address the security vulnerabilities of basic FTP.

FTP is the foundation for many of the alternative FTP solutions companies gravitate toward today, though steps have been taken to add layers of security to basic FTP. But, with so many alternatives on the market, it can be difficult to determine which options meet your file transfer needs and which options fall short.

To effectively choose the right alternative FTP solution for your business, you need to evaluate your options based on the following criteria:

  • Security. First and foremost, your biggest concern for the FTP solution you use is the level of security it provides to protect your data. Hackers are constantly developing their methods for accessing secure data. This is one of the main reasons so many companies have moved from using unencrypted FTP to using an alternative FTP solution, in an attempt to improve the security around their data.

    Additionally, many companies face a variety of compliance regulations, making the security they apply to their file transfers important for both avoiding the risk of fines and consequences and protecting their reputations.
  • Protocol Compatibility. When you’re working with clients, you want them to ba able to choose the protocol that works best for them. This makes it imperative to find a solution that facilitates compatibility between multiple protocols. You wouldn’t want to choose an alternative FTP solution that requires all users to install and learn new software. That creates limitations on collaboration and a logistical nightmare. When evaluating alternative FTP solutions, keep flexibility in mind.

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Explore five of the most popular alternative FTP solutions. You’ll learn more about the benefits and drawbacks of each, and with this information, you can determine which solution best meets your needs.

1. SFTP

SFTP, or FTP over SSH, increases FTP security by establishing a secure channel between the party sending data and the party receiving it. The SSH stands for “Secure Shell,” meaning two computers establish an SSH-encrypted channel prior to logging in and transferring data. The secure channel protects data from being accessed by a party other than the intended recipient.

It is a secure alternative to traditional FTP. Also, unlike FTPS which we’ll explore next, SFTP only needs a single open channel to send all data. Your client’s firewalls are therefore far less likely to require special rules than when using FTPS, which uses multiple dynamic channels.

2. FTPS

File Transfer Protocol SSL or FTPS, like SFTP, uses an encrypted connection to transfer files. (SSL stands for “Secure Sockets Layer”.) FTPS adds a layer of SSL security around the traditional FTP protocol. But, since both FTP and FTPS use the same control channel (port 21), you want to be sure your solution can enforce the use of FTPS and disallow FTP.

The most major strike against FTPS, as stated above, is that it requires multiple open channels to send or receive files and screen updates such as directory listings. Your client’s firewall may get in the way of these dynamic channels and cause frustrating errors to occur. So, while SFTP and FTPS are fairly comparable when it comes to file security, SFTP is the superior alternative FTP solution when it comes to firewall configuration.

3. HTTPS

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) enables users to upload and download files via a web browser. In the past, many users transferred files using HTTP, but that left files without security and vulnerable to access by malicious users. HTTPS performs the same function as HTTP, but with an added encryption layer for increased security. Like FTP vs. FTPS, you want to be certain that your solution only allows HTTPS (encrypted) and not HTTP (unencrypted).

This alternative FTP solution does make it easy to download files. All you need is a URL and a web browser. Where HTTPS often falls short is when it comes to transmitting large, complex files and folders. HTTPS is ideally suited for simple file transfers, which doesn’t accommodate many business operations.

4. AS2

Applicability Standard 2 (AS2) is ideally suited for B2B EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) transactions, primarily in retail and manufacturing industries. It creates a SSL secure tunnel for data to be sent and received between two parties. One of the greatest benefits of AS2 is that you can confirm receipt by the intended party, and you can verify that a file was securely delivered, without any tampering.

However, AS2 also requires both the sender and the recipient to have an AS2 solution to send and receive data, unlike SFTP, FTPS, or HTTPS. This means that AS2 is incompatible with other file transfer protocols.

5. MFT

Do you want all of the benefits of a secure file transfer solution, without the hassle of managing it yourself? Managed File Transfer (MFT) essentially offers the best of all the above alternative FTP solutions. With an MFT solution, you work with an expert file transfer partner who automates your file transfers either through a software or SaaS solution.

When you choose an MFT solution, you’re also getting a solution that’s compatible with all the above protocols - SFTP, FTPS, HTTPS, and perhaps even AS2. This enables you to seamlessly and securely interact with your client’s file transfer protocols, regardless of what they’re using.

MFT solutions enable enhanced security and audit logs, so when you choose an MFT solution, your business will remain compliant with HIPAA, PCI DSS, ITAR, GLBA, and SOX regulations.

As you search for the best alternative FTP solution for your needs, keep your priorities in mind. Do you want an FTP solution that enables compatibility with all the most common protocols and your clients’ operations? Are you concerned about the security of your data? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, a managed file transfer solution is the ideal option for your business.

Interested in finding the ideal file transfer solution for your need? Explore this software comparison guide to find the right fit.

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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.