What to Look for in an Enterprise SFTP Server Solution

What to Look for in an Enterprise SFTP Server Solution

When security is on the line, you want to make sure you use SFTP and the best and most secure SFTP servers.

What Is SFTP?

SFTP stands for Secure File Transfer Protocol. It is a secure file transfer protocol used to transfer files between two remote systems in a secure manner. It is based on the SSH (Secure Shell) protocol and provides a secure and reliable way to transfer files over an unsecured network. It can be used for both interactive and automated file transfer operations. It also supports features such as directory listings, file permissions, and file encryption. SFTP is different than other file transfer methods because it provides an encrypted connection between two systems, which helps protect data during transmission. Unlike with FTP (File Transfer Protocol), SFTP ensures data is transmitted securely, as SFTP encrypts both the control and data connections, making it more secure. SFTP also provides additional security functions, such as directory listings, file permissions, and file encryption, that are not available with other file transfer methods.

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Why Use Enterprise SFTP Software?

Enterprise SFTP software is used to securely transfer files over a network between two endpoints, usually from a local computer to a remote server. It enables businesses to transfer large files more securely than FTP with features such as encryption, authentication, data integrity, and more. It’s an ideal solution for reliable file transfers, even over unreliable connections, and can help businesses ensure that their data is secure at all times. It can also help streamline workflow processes and improve data privacy and security compliance.

What About Cloud SFTP?

Cloud SFTP is a file transfer protocol that enables users to securely transfer files to and from the cloud using advanced authentication and encryption. It is a web-based system that is hosted by a third-party provider and accessible through a web browser.

On-premises SFTP, by contrast, is a file transfer protocol that enables users to securely transfer files to and from their own hardware. It must be installed, managed, and maintained by the organization, making it a more expensive and complex system than cloud SFTP. On-premises SFTP systems also offer more control and customization than cloud SFTP.

Here is a quick list of cloud SFTP and on-premises SFTP pros and cons:

Cloud SFTP Pros:

  • No installation or maintenance required
  • Lower cost than on-premises SFTP
  • Easily scalable
  • High levels of security and encryption
  • Accessible from any web browser

Cloud SFTP Cons:

  • Less control and customization
  • Dependent on third-party provider
  • Increased complexity of data migration

On-premises SFTP Pros:

  • More control and customization
  • No dependency on third-party provider
  • Lower complexity of data migration

On-premises SFTP Cons:

  • Complex installation and maintenance required
  • Higher cost than cloud SFTP
  • Limited scalability
  • Lower levels of security and encryption


MFT and SFTP are two different protocols used for secure file transfer.

Managed File Transfer (MFT) enables secure and streamlined file transfers within an organization or between an organization and external parties. Secure MFT solutions include features such as encryption, automation, audit logs, and centralized control to ensure the security and reliability of file transfers.

SFTP, as a reminder, is a secure version of FTP and uses Secure Shell (SSH) to provide a secure connection for file transfers. It encrypts content in transfer, or transit, and can authenticate users to ensure secure file access.

While MFT and SFTP provide secure file transfer, MFT offers more advanced capabilities and features such as automation, centralized control, and visibility into file transfer activities. SFTP is a simpler protocol that can be used for secure point-to-point file transfers. The choice between MFT and SFTP depends on the organization’s or business’s specific needs and requirements.

What Is an SFTP Server?

Modeled off classic File Transfer Protocol (FTP), Secure FTP (SFTP) is a protocol that allows you to transfer files between one computer and another securely.

FTP is perhaps one of the most foundational protocols in modern computing. In essence, FTP defines a protocol where two computers can share a direct connection and send files over that connection. Because FTP was conceived and built in the earliest days of the internet, it is a bit archaic in a few key areas, primarily when it comes to security.

Imagine sending a letter to a friend. You place the letter in your mailbox, knowing that the post office will be able to read the address on the envelope and get it to the right destination. That envelope doesn’t protect the message from theft, however. Anyone with the inclination could take that letter during its journey, open it, and read everything you wrote. That’s FTP in a nutshell: it’s fast and reliable but provides no security measures against theft.

SFTP addresses this issue by recreating FTP using more modern and secure technology: Secure Shell (SSH). SSH creates an encrypted channel through which data passes. If someone intercepted that data, they wouldn’t see the actual data—they would see the encrypted form of the information that would be difficult, if not impossible, to break. If we consider the letter example above, SFTP would operate almost identically. Still, instead of sending a plain text letter, it would scramble all the words on that letter and only unscramble them when the person receiving the letter reads it.

Much like FTP, SFTP follows a client/server model. A server computer storing files would accept authorized connections from SFTP clients who would download or upload more files for storage.

By default, SFTP cannot function without a server computer and one or several clients connecting to that server. That means having software (or a dedicated host offered by a third-party provider) installed on a server computer and client software installed on client computers.

SFTP, FTPS, and FTPES: Similarities and Differences

Understanding the differences between SFTP, FTPS, and FTPES is crucial for choosing the most suitable protocol for your file transfer needs. Each protocol offers distinct advantages and security features, so it’s essential you understand each, including their differentiators, before you choose the one that best suits your needs.

High Security With SFTP

SFTP is, once again, a Secure File Transfer Protocol that operates over an encrypted SSH connection. It provides high security by encrypting both data and command channels, effectively protecting against data interception and manipulation. SFTP offers features such as file integrity checks, resuming interrupted transfers, and remote file management.

Secure Data Transmission FTPS (FTP Secure)

FTPS is an extension of the standard FTP protocol that adds support for SSL/TLS encryption. The FTPS protocol has two modes: Explicit (FTPS) and Implicit (FTPES). FTPS provides secure data transmission by encrypting the control and data channels, ensuring that sensitive information remains protected during transfer. However, FTPS can be more challenging to set up and manage than SFTP due to its dual-channel nature and the need to configure and maintain SSL/TLS certificates.

Encryption Flexibility With FTPES (FTP Secure With Explicit Encryption)

FTPES, also known as FTP Secure With Explicit Encryption or Explicit FTPS, is a variation of FTPS that explicitly allows clients to request a secure SSL/TLS-encrypted connection. This flexibility means that clients can choose to initiate a secure encrypted connection or an unencrypted one, depending on their needs. While this flexibility can be advantageous in some situations, it also introduces a potential security risk, as clients might accidentally use an unencrypted connection.

Top Tips for Securing FTP and SFTP Servers

Whether using FTP or SFTP servers, implementing proper security measures is crucial to protect sensitive content and maintain regulatory compliance. The following tips offer practical guidance on enhancing the security of your FTP and SFTP servers, ensuring they remain resilient against potential threats.

Best Practice Description
Implement Strong Authentication Methods Ensure your server requires solid and unique usernames and passwords. Key-based authentication offers additional security.
Enable Encryption for All File Transfers Your server should support encryption protocols such as SSL/TLS for FTP and SSH for SFTP to protect data transmission.
Limit User Permissions to Protect Sensitive Content Restrict user access to specific directories and files to minimize potential damage from unauthorized access.
Configure Firewall and Network Settings Set up your firewall and network settings to allow only necessary traffic and block unauthorized connections.
Regularly Update Server Software Keep your server software up to date to patch security vulnerabilities and ensure optimal performance.
Monitor Server Logs and Activity Closely monitor server logs and activity to identify and address suspicious behavior or unauthorized access attempts.
Disable Anonymous Access Disable anonymous access to your server, ensuring only authenticated users with proper credentials can connect.
Implement Rate Limiting and Connection Restrictions Control the number of concurrent connections and implement rate limiting to protect your server from brute-force attacks and excessive resource consumption.
Utilize Intrusion Detection and Prevention Systems Employ systems to identify and automatically block malicious traffic and potential threats like malware, ransomware, and advanced persistent threats (ATPs).
Regularly Review User Accounts and Access Controls Periodically review user accounts, access controls, and permissions to ensure they remain up to date and secure.

What Capabilities and Features to Look for When Investing in an SFTP Server

What you look for in SFTP servers for secure file transfers and what features you want depend almost entirely on your business and technical needs. However, there are some general features that a solid SFTP server should provide to demonstrate that it can help you achieve your goals or adapt to do so.

In general, look for the following features when selecting an SFTP server for secure file transfers:

Security Measures That Meet Your Business Needs

By and large, you want a server that can support the encryption you need while also protecting stored data in the server through technologies like firewalls, anti-malware, and hardening techniques. Typically, you’ll want AES-128 or AES-256 encryption for data-at-rest and TLS 1.2+ for data-in-transit.

Compliance Support

Secure file transfer itself isn’t compliant with most industry regulations out of the box. However, a provider that offers compliant servers has typically used expert engineers and compliance offices to customize their offerings based on your specific industry. Look for service providers that can support frameworks like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP), the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), or whichever industry regulations you need to meet. You must configure over 100 controls to meet most of these regulations, requiring functionality and policies such as data access controls, separation of administrative duties, and block-listing or allow-listing domains. Most important, ensure the logging and reporting is sufficient for passing compliance audits with a reasonable amount of effort.

Security Monitoring Integration

Security information and event management (SIEM) is an increasingly vital SFTP security tool for compliance and system management. Your server should include either built-in SIEM or integration with SIEM-as-a-Service providers.

DLP Integration

Enterprise organizations using extensive file transfer capabilities will invariably need to invest Data Loss Prevention (DLP) features. Look for a server that supports integration with these tools.

Disaster Recovery and Availability

Backups and disaster recovery usually come in two flavors: “cold” for long term but slower access, and “hot” always-on recovery with backup redundancy across multiple backup servers to ensure you never have a disruption due to system failure. Look for a system that can ideally support both, but at least hot recovery backups to mitigate downtime.

Managed File Transfer (MFT) Services

Many providers will also offer secure file transfer as part of a more extensive managed file transfer (MFT) package. MFT can bring more granular controls over batch processing, scheduling and auditing, and provides automation without the need to write and maintain code or scripts. It also provides an operations console to ensure reliable transfer services in spite of failures in networks and remote servers, with analytics to help tune throughput and transfer times.

Data Orchestration

Secure file transfer is considered a legacy technology against other modern cloud platforms, and yet it still serves an integral part as the backbone of a large-scale secure file transfer. Accordingly, a server that works with data orchestration tools can help make transfers between servers, on-premises or legacy cloud storage and shared cloud services seamless and simple.

Support for Security and Operational Analytics

Understanding your data’s activity and its transfer is critical for compliance and business operations. Pick a server with a CISO Dashboard that gives you essential intelligence on logging, security events and data governance insights.

Large or Unlimited File Sizes

Not all servers can support large or unlimited files. Look for a server solution that provides file transfer limits that fit your needs.

How to Properly Set Up Your SFTP Server

It is critical to set up an SFTP server correctly because it is used to transfer sensitive content. A data breach involving an incorrectly configured SFTP server can have significant consequences for an organization. Conversely, correctly setting up an SFTP server ensures that data is encrypted during transmission, and only authorized users have access to it. Master the process of efficiently establishing a secure and reliable SFTP server with this comprehensive, step-by-step guide for beginners and experts alike.

Choose the Best SFTP Server Software for Your Business Requirements

When selecting an SFTP server software, consider factors such as platform compatibility, scalability, ease of use, and available features. Some popular options include OpenSSH, vsftpd, and ProFTPD. OpenSSH is widely used and comes pre-installed on many UNIX-based systems. vsftpd is known for its high performance and security, while ProFTPD is feature-rich and highly configurable. Research each option and choose the one that best suits your requirements.

Install the SFTP Server Software

Once you have chosen the SFTP server software, download and install it on your server. Installation procedures may vary depending on the software and the operating system you are using. Generally, you can install the software using package managers like apt-get (Debian-based systems) or yum (Red Hat-based systems). You may also need to compile the software from source if no pre-built packages are available.

Configure the SFTP Server Software

After installing the software, you will need to configure it. SFTP server software configuration involves setting up user accounts, connection settings, and security measures such as encryption and authentication. Configuration files are usually in the /etc/ directory and can be edited using a text editor. Ensure that you carefully follow the documentation provided by the SFTP server software developers to configure the settings correctly.

Configure the Firewall for SFTP Connections

To allow incoming SFTP connections, you must configure your server’s firewall to permit traffic on the relevant port, which is usually port 22. Depending on your server’s operating system, this process may involve editing iptables (for Linux) or creating rules in the Windows Firewall. Always ensure that you only open the ports necessary for the SFTP server to minimize the potential attack surface.

Create User Accounts With Appropriate Permissions

Create the necessary user accounts on your server, granting them the appropriate permissions and access rights. This process may involve creating new user accounts or modifying existing ones. Be sure to assign each user a unique username and password, and restrict their access to only the directories and files they require. This helps organizations maintain a secure SFTP environment, protect sensitive content from unauthorized access, and demonstrate regulatory compliance with data privacy regulations.

Test the SFTP Server With an SFTP Client

Once the SFTP server is set up and configured, test it by connecting to it using an SFTP client such as WinSCP or FileZilla. Enter the server’s IP address or domain name, along with the username and password of a test user account. Upon successful connection, you should be able to view the remote file system and perform file transfer operations. If any issues arise during the testing phase, consult your SFTP server software’s documentation to troubleshoot the problem.

Monitor and Maintain the SFTP Server

Regularly monitor and maintain your SFTP server to ensure it remains secure and functions correctly. This may involve checking logs for unusual activity, updating the server software to the latest version, and reviewing user accounts and permissions. Keeping your SFTP server up to date and closely monitoring its activity can help prevent potential security breaches and ensure optimal performance.

Criteria List for Choosing the Best SFTP Server

There are several key criteria that differentiates great SFTP servers from average SFTP servers, including:

Feature Description
Robust Security A great SFTP server should have strong built-in encryption, authentication systems, and other advanced security features for enhanced data protection.
High Performance The server should be capable of handling large data transfers and provide an efficient, high-throughput connection for maximum efficiency and productivity.
Reliability A great SFTP server should offer a consistent and reliable connection to all clients, maximizing uptime.
Ease of Use The server should be easy to install, configure, and use, requiring minimal technical knowledge or experience.
Scalability A great SFTP server should be able to scale to meet the changing needs of your users or organization.
Integration The server should be able to integrate with other systems, such as databases or applications, for efficient file transfers and automation.
Comprehensive Customer Support A great SFTP server should provide comprehensive customer support and resources to help users maximize their server usage.

SFTP Server as SaaS

A SaaS-based SFTP server is a cloud-based solution allowing users to securely transfer files between two or more remote systems. The SaaS model enables organizations to easily access and manage their files without worrying about the technicalities and infrastructure of hosting and maintaining the server.

With SaaS-based SFTP servers, organizations can easily create, access, and manage their SFTP servers through a simple web-based dashboard. Users can easily upload, download, and manage files from anywhere, using any internet-connected device. Users can easily upload, download, and organize files from anywhere, using any internet-connected device. This model eliminates the need for an on-premises server and all associated hardware, software, and maintenance costs.

Another benefit of using a SaaS-based SFTP server is scalability. Organizations can easily upgrade their subscription plan as the business grows to accommodate more users, storage, and bandwidth. This model also offers flexibility regarding payment options, enabling companies to pay only for what they use.

Transfer Files Securely, Efficiently, and in Compliance With Kiteworks SFTP

SFTP servers today must pull more weight than just providing secure file transfer. Enterprise tools, MFT integration, and security and compliance configurations are what set an SFTP server apart from the pack.

The Kiteworks Private Content Network unifies, tracks, controls, and secures sensitive content coming into, within, and out of an organization, whether that content is shared via email, file sharing, managed file transfer, web forms, application programming interfaces (APIs), or yes, SFTP.

With Kiteworks SFTP, you get:

  • Security and Compliance: Our systems utilize AES-256 encryption for data at rest and TLS 1.2+ for data in transit. A hardened virtual appliance, granular controls, multi-factor authentication, security stack integrations, and comprehensive file activity monitoring and logging enable you to achieve compliance efficiently.
  • SIEM Integration: Keep your environment secure with integrated SIEM for alerts, logging and event response. Integrations include IBM QRadar, ArcSight, FireEye Helix, LogRhythm and others. It also helps the Splunk Forwarder and includes the Splunk App. Kiteworks also standardizes audit logs and report entries into a single log for widespread SIEM consumption.
  • DLP: The Kiteworks platform includes powerful data loss prevention (DLP) features to protect against data loss and empower disaster recovery. Our DLP integrates with your existing DLP servers and logging tools to provide protection and, if necessary, block violations of DLP policy.
  • Disaster Recovery: Speaking of recovery, Kiteworks provides hot recovery backups across two backup locations with automatic failover to empower always-on operations with little or no downtime during an emergency.
  • Audit Logging: With the Kiteworks platform’s immutable audit logs, you can trust that you can detect attacks sooner and that you’re maintaining the correct chain of evidence to perform forensics. Since the system merges and standardizes entries from all the components, its unified Syslog and alerts save your SOC team crucial time and help your compliance team prepare for audits.
  • Single-tenant Cloud Environment: Your file transfers, file storage, and access will occur on a dedicated Kiteworks instance, deployed on your premises, on your IaaS resources, or hosted as a private, single tenant instance by Kiteworks. That means no shared runtime, databases or repositories, resources, or potential for cross-cloud breaches or attacks.
  • Data Orchestration With the Cloud: Kiteworks also offers orchestration tools so that you can connect your legacy on-premises data servers, SFTP servers and modern cloud environments for backup, migration, or data scaling purposes.
  • Seamless Automation and MFT: The Kiteworks platform supports MFT automation to facilitate content transfer into and out of secure file transfer and other repositories like file shares and AWS S3.
  • Self-service Ease of Use: Business users access the back end of the Kiteworks platform through familiar web file sharing folders. Employees and administrators alike can utilize intuitive interfaces to navigate files, create folder and set file and folder permissions.
  • Data Visibility and Management: Our CISO Dashboard gives you an overview of your data: where it is, who is accessing it, how it is being used, and if it complies. Help your business leaders make informed decisions and your compliance leadership maintain regulatory requirements.

If you want to learn more about how Kiteworks enables secure content communications across SFTP, schedule a custom demo.

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