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Using SFTP for Secure File Transfer

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FTP has been a popular and widely used method of transferring files between remote users for a long time. However, today it does not meet international safety standards. Therefore, more and more companies are choosing the SFTP protocol, which completely covers the needs of VPS owners in terms of secure data exchange. 

This option of transferring files between trading partners and corporate servers is more secure than using FTP. 

We offer to figure out who should use and how to use SFTP. Let’s talk about the advantages of this one. To find out in more detail how to set up a connection to an SFTP server, link here

What is SFTP?

In the spring of 2019, OpenSSH developers proposed replacing the outdated SCP protocol with an updated version of SFTP, which is also called the Secure Shell Data Transfer Protocol (SSH). 

In fact, SFTP is a network protocol that allows access:

  • to files located on a remote server;
  • to transfer files between servers regardless of the distance between them;
  • to manage remote files via a reliable stream. 

The secure way to work with remote SFTP files was created by the Internet Engineering Group (IETF) as an extension of the SSH protocol for more secure file transfer. But even though it is described in the context of SSH, the format and capabilities allow it to be used for different applications, for example, for secure data transfer over TLS or in VPN applications. 

SFTP protects files by encryption and cryptographic functions, prevents password interception and hacker attacks. This protocol, when attempting to transfer data, necessarily identifies both the server and the user themself. An additional feature for the SFTP client is the ability to resume interrupted transmission, display a list of directories, and delete data at a distance. 

SFTP not only replaces FTP, but also confidently displaces FTP/S. This protocol completely repeats all their functionality. At the same time, it is more reliable and with a simple setup. Then why use the old protocols?

Features of using SFTP

As already mentioned, the SFTP protocol provides for secure data transfer when the server authenticates the user. Only in this case, it is possible to send or receive files, and work with them. Thanks to encryption, the risks of interception of passwords, and confidential information in its original form are eliminated. 

SFTP user authentication is performed by entering a password or other identifier, for example, after verifying the SSH key. Two-way authentication can be set up. Part of the SSH key is transmitted to clients who have access to private files, and the other half of it is located on the server. Only when both parts of the keys match, the possibility of working with information opens. 

Secure data transfer is needed not only in commercial activities. If intellectual property or state secrets fall into the hands of intruders, the case can have devastating consequences. Therefore, not only banks, exchanges, corporations, but also government agencies often use SFTP to exchange files. 

To start using the SFTP protocol, the user needs to install an SFTP client and request an SFTP server from the provider. 

  • An SFTP client is software that connects a user to a server. The software also downloads files for storage on the server, and retrieves them remotely from the server for later use on your computer. 
  • The SFTP server is the volume on the server where the data is stored and from where it can be received. The server securely transfers files via SSH protocol. For example, an application developer can upload updates to an SFTP server so that buyers pick up files via an SFTP client. And the head office of a large corporation can upload accounting documentation to the SFTP server so that representatives of branches can get acquainted with it from different parts of the world.  

When to use SFTP

The SFTP protocol is necessary if data privacy and file transfer security are important. Some international acts and laws require its unconditional use. For example, the “Law on the Transfer and Protection of Medical Data” (HIPAA), the “Law on the Protection of Personal Data of Users of the State of California” (CCPA), and others. Confidentiality is very important in these cases. After all, doctors are obliged to keep patient data, and safely transfer them, if necessary, to insurance companies and other interested authorities. 

Some users appreciated the ability of the SFTP protocol to complement VPN. Both one system and the second are designed to protect data. However, SFTP is rules and conventions, and VPN is a tunnel for file transfer. If you transfer information via the SFTP protocol over a VPN, you will be able to achieve maximum protection.

Advantages of SFTP

Commercial structures, government agencies, and large corporations are increasingly implementing the SFTP protocol in their work, trying to ensure its security and data confidentiality. If we list the advantages of this network protocol again, it is worth mentioning:

  • High speed. Servers that are used with SFTP provide easy and fast transfer of “heavy” files. The client can send or receive multiple files at the same time. Which saves time. 
  • Safety. Stored, transmitted, and received files are encrypted. Only if there is an access right confirmed by a password or a part of the key, the user can perform any manipulations. 
  • Ease of management. SFTP makes it easy to manage the server via a web interface or client.
  • SFTP and firewalls interact easily. Commands and files are transmitted over the connection to port 22. It is included by the security screens in their security settings.

Should I choose SFTP or not?

The developers position the SFTP protocol as a highly reliable method of data transmission.  And numerous users confirm that it has numerous features and benefits. However, the security of working with files depends on SSH keys. If you make a mistake, if SSH key management falls into the wrong hands, then confidential cryptographic assets may be available to attackers. In this case, third parties will have access to corporate networks. Therefore, when choosing the SFTP protocol, it is important for users to ensure the protection of SSH keys. Choose your provider carefully to secure the connection between hosts. A reliable hoster guarantees round-the-clock technical support, as well as automation of SSH life cycles.

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Olena Orlova