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Why Are File Transfers Considered High Risk?

Greg Mooney| July 18 2018

| security

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External file transfers of digital assets are risky for everyone—no matter if you’re a healthcare organization, financial institution, insurance company, retail store, manufacturer or in education.

Every time an end-user sends a file, the information could be intercepted by a cybercriminal.

When the file is received, if it’s not handled properly, sensitive data or intellectual property could find its way into the wrong hands. Whether it’s someone with malicious intent or someone who just should not see the file, it’s something to avoid at all costs. The next thing you know, it’s possibly violating compliance regulations, losing valuable data to a competitor, facing a public relations nightmare—or maybe even all three at once.

File Transfers Expose Data to High Risks

While it’s true that external file transfers create a security challenge, the movement of sensitive data to external end users is also a core operational process for just about every business. Exchanging personally identifiable information (PII) pertaining to customers and intellectual property belonging to the business among employees, customers and vendors is necessary to execute business transactions.

From a security perspective, data in transit is always data at risk since data in transmission presents an opportunity for interception. Unauthorized access can also occur when data is stored at rest for download on a file transfer server. And there’s always the chance of files being delivered to an unintended recipient or mishandled by end users that receive the files. This is why using tools like Google Drive or Dropbox are worrisome to IT teams and compliance officers. IT ultimately doesn't have full control over who has which data.

Along the entire file sharing transfer journey, there’s a lot that can go wrong. File transfers expose sensitive data to high risks due to many common occurrences:

  • Personal data stored in files uploaded using the file transfer protocol (FTP) are often left unencrypted and do not get deleted. Even password protected FTP servers pose security issues from brute force attacks. 
  • The use of the FTP anonymous mode and out-of-date security patches provide easy access to cybercriminals.
  • Desktop users that circumvent IT by sending personal data over unsecured connections—such as email and cloud-based file-sharing software services like Google Drive. 
  • Lack of centralized control over permissions that expose user credentials, which hackers can exploit to gain control over protected data.
  • Lack of centralized and tamper-evident audit logs that create risks of unauthorized or failed transfers going unnoticed.

External file transfers of sensitive data thus require considerable attention—not only to protect digital assets but also to comply with regulations such as GDPR, HIPAA, and PCI DSS. Given that InfoSec teams are always under pressure to allocate limited time and resources, businesses need to focus their investments on technologies that provide protection over processing activities that pose the greatest risk to sensitive data.

Secure File Transfer Requires More Than a Simple Upgrade

If you rely on the FTP server transfer method, attempting to upgrade your FTP environment to provide sufficient security and comply with various regulations may not work as well as you want it to. You would also have to assure that all external transfer processes use secure protocols (SFTP, FTPS, and HTTPS) and encryption (SSH, TLS, and SSL). Another function to add is AES-256 encryption to make sure all upload processes protect data while at rest.

Sick of your users using unauthorized file transfer solutions? Try MOVEit today.

But even these critical improvements are not enough. That’s because the attempt to create a secure FTP process inherits many of the risk-management challenges and vulnerabilities as the FTP servers they replace.

Achieving secure file transfers is even more difficult if your organization has experienced FTP sprawl. When sprawl occurs, you likely have a mix of FTP servers—with different software on different platforms, different software revisions, OS revisions, and security patches. This creates vulnerabilities that cybercriminals can exploit to access personal data.

The video below goes into more detail why FTP sprawl is an issue. 

What’s more, FTP data transfers are typically reliant on scripts, which can be written in different languages such as PERL, BASH, VB and PowerShell. Scripts are also often undocumented. Without standardization and centralized control, scripted workflows installed across multiple FTP servers can result in the unauthorized processing of personal data.

Regulations also require businesses to provide proof of compliance. Collecting and reporting on audit logs from multiple FTP servers is time-consuming and raises red flags with auditors who have a preference for a single source of log data in a consistent format and stored in a tamper-evident database. Addressing these limitations will require considerable time and expense to get data transfer environments up to regulation standards.

The Answer to Secure FTP: Managed File Transfer

For businesses looking to ensure the secure transfer of files to external end users, a Managed File Transfer (MFT) solution is the way to go. MFT ensures secure transfers of sensitive data among internal teams and external customers and business partners. You can also make sure transfers comply with HIPAA, PCI DSS, GDPR and other regulations that protect sensitive data.

Sick of your users using unauthorized file transfer solutions? Try MOVEit today.

MFT assures security and compliance by utilizing secure protocols, applying end-to-end encryption, and enforcing policies. Tamper-evident audit trails make it possible to attest to internal and external compliance audits and that a sufficient security posture has been established. The leading MFT solutions also make things easier for the InfoSec team—with intuitive interfaces that allow tasks and workflows to be developed without scripting.

Take a Free Trial

If your risk assessment activities indicate that your company needs to make a risk adjustment to reduce the likelihood of file transfers being stolen or mishandled, it’s time to take the next step to secure your external file transfers. You can start by trying a free trial of MOVEit, the managed file transfer solution from Ipswitch.

MOVEit is auditor-certified to be PCI DSS and HIPAA compliant, and it provides advanced security controls to ensure compliance with GDPR and other regulations during external file transfer activities involving personal data. Organizations around the world rely on MOVEit to gain complete visibility and control over their file transfer activities. By deploying the solution, you can assure the reliability of core business processes and the secure and compliant transfer of your sensitive data among end users, partners and customers. 

Topics: security

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THIS POST WAS WRITTEN BY Greg Mooney

Greg is a technologist and data geek with over 10 years in tech. He has worked in a variety of industries as an IT manager and software tester. Greg is an avid writer on everything IT related, from cyber security to troubleshooting.

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