This morning I was asked if I recommended using transport encryption or file encryption to protect company files and data.

My answer:  “Use both of them, together!”

For starters, here’s a real quick summary of both encryption types:

  • Transport encryption (“data-in-transit”) protects the file as it travels over protocols such as FTPS (SSL), SFTP (SSH) and HTTPS.  Leading solutions use encryption strengths up to 256-bit.
  • File encryption (“data-at-rest”) encrypts an individual file so that if it ever ended up in someone else’s possession, they couldn’t open it or see the contents.  PGP is commonly used to encrypt files.

I believe that using both together provides a double-layer of protection.  The transport protects the files as they are moving…. And the PGP protects the file itself, especially important after it’s been moved and is sitting on a server, laptop, USB drive, smartphone or anywhere else.

Here’s an analogy:  Think of transport encryption as an armored truck that’s transporting money from say a retail store to a bank.  99.999% of the time that armored Brinks truck will securely transport your delivery without any incident.  But adding a second layer of protection – say you put the money in a safe before putting it in the truck – reduces the chance of compromise exponentially, both during and after transport.

One last piece of advice:  Ensure that your organization has stopped using the FTP protocol for transferring any type of confidential, private or sensitive information.  Although it’s an amazing accomplishment that FTP is still functional after 40 years, please please please realize that FTP is does not provide any encryption or guaranteed delivery – not to mention that tactically deployed FTP servers scattered throughout your organization lack the visibility, management and enforcement capabilities that modern Managed File Transfer solutions deploy.

SC Magazine just published a short article titled “FTP described as unsecure and generally unmonitored”.

In the article, fellow Managed File Transfer (MFT) vendor Axway correctly points out that “usernames, passwords, commands and data can be easily intercepted and read while files transferred via FTP are uploaded or downloaded without any encryption.”

Not to overstate the obvious, but I wholeheartedly agree (and this should come as no surprise to our avid blog readers).  The FTP protocol turned 40 years old in 2011 and although still functional, it was not designed to provide any encryption or guaranteed delivery.  Unfortunately, many organizations are still relying on outmoded homegrown FTP scripts or have deployed basic FTP servers scattered throughout their organization – all lacking basic security measures, not to mention important visibility, management and enforcement capabilities.

Today, the 40-year old FTP protocol proudly serves as the foundation for the majority of data transfer and application integration technologies that organizations rely on so heavily.    But luckily for us all, modern file transfer solutions deliver much more than basic FTP:

  • VISIBILITY capabilities such as logging; reporting; alerts; notifications; chain-of-custody and file life cycle tracking
  • MANAGEMENT capabilities such as workflows and scheduling of file related processes; person-to-person file transfer;  integration with systems/applications; data transformation; high availability;  virtualized platform support
  • ENFORCEMENT capabilities such as user provisioning;  password policies;  encryption requirements (for example, requiring 256-bit AES encryption over FTPS or SFTP protocols);  file integrity checking;  non repudiation

Now is the time to replace old and often insecure point FTP solutions and hard-to-maintain scripts with technology that includes the benefits of a modern MFT solution.