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What is Secure File Transfer?

defining secure file transfer and its solutions

Moving sensitive, often-proprietary files from one person—or organization—to another has become a complex aspect of the business world today. This complexity comes not only from the size and number of files that need to be shared, but also from the need to protect them at all points during their journey from sender to receiver.

Even though there are excellent solutions available for secure file transfer, many IT departments are still relying on outdated options, including FTP, PC tools (often installed by employees without IT knowing), or legacy scripts. These simply don’t cut it when it comes to general efficiency, keeping your company’s data safe, or showing compliance with industry mandates for how information is secured and exchanged.

With this in mind, let’s look at how secure file transfer works.

Defining Secure File Transfer

At a high level, secure file transfer is simply a method of securing the movement of files. Through scripts, PC tools, or managed file transfer solutions, secure file transfer can usually encrypt information in transit and at rest and create an audit trail of all file-transfer activity, ideal for producing documentation that shows adherence to PCI DSS, the GDPR, SOX, HIPAA, NIST, and other regulations.

There are many types of solutions available for secure file transfer. However, if you’re looking for a robust platform of secure file transfer that includes additional capabilities such as automation, the ability to send large numbers of files, and user-to-user collaboration tools, managed file transfer (MFT) is the best choice on the market.

Key Features of Managed File Transfer Software

  • Batch file transfers and ad-hoc file sharing
  • Encryption for files at rest and on the move
  • Automation that replaces error-prone manual activities
  • Audit trails and PDF reports that demonstrate regulatory compliance
  • Secure collaboration tools for exchanging files internally

This all sounds appealing, with many benefits for the average organization, right? So why do IT teams forgo implementation of managed file transfer software?

Where Companies Go Wrong

There is a tradeoff between security and convenience happening in organizations today. According to a 2018 HelpSystems survey, over 65% of IT and security teams have difficulty balancing cybersecurity controls with business efficiency, and 46% struggle with insufficient cybersecurity skills and staffing.

Tools such as an intuitive secure file transfer solution can go a long way toward accomplishing your business’ needs for efficiency and security, especially when it comes to data encryption.

But sometimes the path of least resistance is deceptively alluring while presenting obvious risks.

There may be a variety of rogue technologies at play in your organization when it comes to transferring files externally to trading partners or customers. This decentralized approach makes it impossible to manage file transfers securely and safeguard data. Below are common ways organizations exchange files without a highly secure managed file transfer solution in place:

  • Scripts are often created by developers to handle one-off file-sharing needs, such as a report that must be generated weekly and sent to a trading partner. However, when server IPs or login credentials change, this becomes complicated to manage, particularly for time-strapped resources. Passwords embedded in a script can also be vulnerable to attack and misuse. In addition, scripts are simplistic, meaning they can’t retry a transfer if it fails the first time. Likewise, they lack notification capabilities. Scripts are simply a patch to a larger problem, making a centralized file sharing method included in managed file transfer solutions much more effective.
  • For decades FTP was the de facto standard for sending files. However, it offers no visibility into who is accessing files and lacks the overall security features needed to protect sensitive file transfers. It also stores a user’s credentials to log in “in the clear,” making it easy to hack into.
  • PC tools and freeware introduce one of the most common sources of data breaches: human error. Maybe a file has sensitive info that a user forgets to encrypt. Or a file is sent to the wrong person and can’t be recalled. Maybe someone who manually transfers files is out unexpectedly, and no one knows the steps to send the file properly to the correct recipients. All these possibilities put sensitive data at risk. Likewise, unsecure email and cloud services such as Dropbox or Box make it difficult to prevent sensitive information from leaving your organization.

Features of a Secure or Managed File Transfer Solution

You’ll find various capabilities available on the market today, but below are the top considerations for selecting a secure or managed file transfer solution:

  • Ease of use: The easier the software is to navigate, the better the adoption will be for both administrators and end users. If the solution is convoluted, people will revert to their old tools and habits, and your new purchase will become shelf ware. Make sure administrators or other key users can set up and execute file-transfer workflows easily. Also verify that the solution can interact seamlessly with other systems, applications, and APIs. This will help with centralization efforts.

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  • Security and compliance: The product must be able to support the latest security protocols and algorithms so you can bring all your customers and trading partners into the fold. It needs to enable you to meet the specifics of whichever regulations you’re required to address. It should have centralized controls that can only be accessed by authorized administrators. This means having a single audit trail that shows file activity, user activity, and all system changes.
  • Error handling and peace of mind: A robust secure file transfer system can highlight any exceptions to expected tasks so they can be resolved quickly. This is the only way to protect your organization’s relationships with customers and partners.

As you’ve learned, secure file transfer is a highly effective way to protect your company’s valuable and sensitive information while improving employee productivity. When coupling the capabilities above with the ability to automate file transfer workflows and enable collaboration, managed file transfer is an excellent choice for your secure file transfer requirements.

Secure the Movement of Valuable Information

To learn more about the best way to transfer files while keeping them protected in transit and at rest, download the Buyer's Guide to Secure Managed File Transfer—the definitive resource for those considering an investment in MFT.

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