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TFTP vs FTP Or is There a Better Option

TFTP vs FTP: Or is There a Higher Choice?

When it comes to transferring sensitive data, there’s nothing trivial about it. The risks of doing it insecurely are high; the costs of a data breach – astronomical. So, if you’re still using TFTP (Trivial File Transfer Protocol) or slightly more secure FTP (File Transfer Protocol) to transfer your organization’s files you probably want to explore your options.

First, let’s break down why TFTP and FTP might not be the best answer if you need a level of security around your file transfers.

What Exactly is TFTP Anyway?

The TFTP protocol transfers files in a bare-minimum, or shall we call it, trivial fashion. This protocol uses UDP (User Datagram Protocol), which facilitates the quick exchange of messages between devices in a Local Area Network (LAN). It is not secure, and TFTP is therefore limited to the basic sending and receiving of files – that’s it. If you don’t need any level of security or encryption, TFTP could fit the bill, especially if you have no need to transfer files over the internet.

With TFTP you’ll be able to send your files, but with no user authentication or directory visibility. Anyone who has the correct path can upload or download your files (and potentially corrupt or misdirect them as well). Plus, with no tracking or auditing capabilities, you won’t ever know where that file’s been.

TFTP is a basic protocol that can easily and quickly handle low-level, non-critical file transfers. If your organization needs more capabilities and security (and most do), consider an FTP alternative.

But What About FTP?

Unlike TFTP, FTP uses TCP (Transmission Control Protocol). However, FTP is still not secure. The data sent using this protocol is transferred “in the clear,” meaning it’s quite easy for someone outside of your intended recipients to access your files.

In addition, FTP does not encrypt user credentials, putting your whole FTP system at risk. Lack of automation features and integration with newer, cloud technology also puts FTP in the category of “might want to explore other options.”

This protocol was never meant to handle the demands of today’s IT environment. Yes, open-source FTP tools are tempting as they are usually free, but the need to meet compliance regulations, trading partner requirements, general data security standards, not to mention the expectation of the public that the data they give you is secure, makes FTP a solution in need of an upgrade.

What File Transfer Protocols Beat TFTP or FTP?

SFTP, which is FTP over Secure Shell, establishes a secure connection for protection of your organization’s files in transit. It provides for encryption support, and gives you options to authenticate your connections. In a nutshell, it beefs up standard FTP to enhance your file transfer security.

FTPS (FTP over SSL), like SFTP, also implements strong algorithms like AES and Triple DES to encrypt critical file transfers. If you want to use certificates to authenticate connections, FTPS is your best option for secure file transfer.

SFTP is easy to implement and is very firewall friendly. It needs only a single port opened to handle initial authentication, issued commands, and file transfers between itself and another server. FTPS can be more difficult to connect through firewalls with high levels of security. It also uses multiple port numbers for implicit and explicit connection types, which can open you up to vulnerabilities.

Both SFTP and FTPS offer substantially more security and benefits than TFTP or FTP. If you need to meet industry compliance regulations, both protocols can help you meet them.

Related Reading: Which is Better SFTP or FTPS?

What Features Should I look for in a File Transfer Protocol?

  • Automation: When you automate routine tasks you reduce the risk of human error, can focus employee time on higher-level priorities, and gain more confidence that your files actually transferred. More robust managed file transfer systems include re-try features to ensure your file gets to where it’s supposed to, even if something happens after you hit “send.”
  • Cloud integration: Older or more basic protocols like TFTP or FTP do not integrate with the newer, cloud computing platforms. If you’re using Azure or AWS, and still using TFTP or FTP, you’re putting your organization at risk.
  • Auditing and reporting: If your industry requires detailed audit logs and reporting to show file activity be sure your file transfer protocol has the capability to log each time a file is uploaded, downloaded, edited, shared, commented on, and deleted to save yourself time and frustration.

Alternatives to TFTP and FTP, such as SFTP and FTPS, are most effective through a centralized, all-in-one file transfer solution like managed file transfer (MFT). MFT is a secure FTP solution designed to protect files with strong encryption and authentication.

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