Top 5 Secure File Transfer Standards to Achieve Regulatory Compliance

Top 5 Secure File Transfer Standards to Achieve Regulatory Compliance With Every File Transfer

Businesses of all sizes and in all industries create mountains of data designed to better identify gaps and growth opportunities. Big decisions are made based on this data. As a result, the data is frequently transferred internally and externally so managers can get valuable perspective from a variety of contributors before making decisions. Time is money, as the old saying goes, so businesses must transfer data-rich files quickly, reliably, efficiently, securely, and in compliance with relevant data privacy regulations. Balancing these requirements is complicated and arduous, but a necessary evil; businesses must transfer files if they wish to remain competitive.

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Business File Transfer Standards Overview

Business File Transfer Protocols are integral to the efficiency and integrity of data transfers in a business context. These protocols, including FTP (File Transfer Protocol), SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol), HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), and HTTPS (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure), dictate how data is sent and received over networks, ensuring that crucial business files arrive accurately and promptly.

The choice of specific business file transfer protocol can have significant implications for the reliability, speed, and security of data transfers. For instance, FTP is one of the oldest protocols and, while it is widely supported and handles large files well, it lacks the encryption necessary for secure data transfer. On the other hand, SFTP offers the same functionality but with added security measures, making it ideal for transferring sensitive business data.

Similarly, HTTP is the backbone of any data exchange on the web, but it doesn’t provide any security measures. To overcome this limitation, HTTPS was developed, infusing HTTP with SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to ensure an encrypted and secure connection.

Each of these protocols has its own strengths and weaknesses, making them better suited to certain situations over others. Understanding these differential traits is essential for businesses in choosing the most suitable file transfer protocol according to their specific needs and circumstances. In the following section, we will delve deeper into each of these protocols, exploring their features, benefits, and potential drawbacks in a business context.

Not All File Transfer Methods Are Secure

Standard file transfer methods vary and some are better designed than others to meet these requirements. Unfortunately, no single file transfer standard is widely recognized as the most effective. A file transfer standard for a small manufacturing business, for example, may be inefficient for a large healthcare provider. An organization’s cybersecurity needs play a critical factor in choosing the right file transfer standard. Threat actors are always on the prowl for sensitive information to steal and monetize. Sensitive information like personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI), and intellectual property (IP) that is shared through file transfers offers low-hanging fruit.

In this blog post, we look at the evolution of file transfer standards, the common standards in use today, the advantages and limitations of each, and the essential features that should inform decision-makers which standard to choose for their organization.

What Are Secure File Transfer Standards?

Secure file transfer standards are protocols and procedures used to ensure the secure transfer of digital files between two parties. These standards cover everything from the encryption of data during transmission, to authentication and verification processes at the beginning or end of the transfer. Secure file transfer standards involve multiple layers of security and are designed to protect the data from malicious intent and data breaches. They help to keep digital information secure and protect the privacy of both sender and receiver. Secure file transfer standards are used by many organizations to ensure the safety and integrity of their data. They help increase trust, efficiency, speed, and reliability of digital data transfers.

Evolution of File Transfer Standards

File sharing has evolved considerably over the last five decades, fueled by big advancements in technology and the need to share files quickly and efficiently.

File transfers can be traced back to the early 1970s when businesses exchanged files using a bi-synchronous modem. In the 1980s, asynchronous modems emerged, and were replaced in the 1990s by HTTPS, FTP, and SMTP. File transfers evolved further in the 2000s, with AS2 and ebXML standards.

Once again, cybersecurity and regulatory compliance are becoming more critical to businesses as PII, PHI, and IP theft become more prevalent. As a result, we have seen a proliferation of enterprise-level file-sharing solutions designed to help businesses meet the needs of secure file sharing and regulatory compliance requirements.

Top 5 Secure File Transfer Standards

Before settling on a secure file transfer solution, it’s important to understand the various standards, and their strengths and weaknesses, before deciding which solution is the right one for you and your business. In no particular order, here is a sampling of the top 5 secure file transfer standards:

1. File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

FTP is a common file-sharing protocol that transfers files between computers/devices and a server in a network. FTP is more than 50 years old and an important piece of the internet infrastructure. This standard and its subsequent iterations power the downloading and uploading of files used by the internet today. It is the backbone of most file transfers.

FTP exchanges data on two separate channels: the command and data channels. The data channel, running on port 21, is responsible for accepting client connections and handling commands between the FTP client and server or authentication. The data channel, running in temporary on-demand ports, is responsible for handling file transfers.

When sharing files through FTP, you can either use anonymous or password-protected sharing. Anonymous FTP shares data without encryption, whereas password-protected sharing will require a username and a password to access the files.

FTP’s major benefits are the ease and speed in which a large number of files can be exchanged. FTP, however, has a major limitation: Security FTP lacks encryption and other basic security features. Businesses, as a result, cannot use this protocol to send or share sensitive data.


FTP’s security gaps are by and large resolved by FTPS. FTPS means FTP over SSL/TLS (Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security). It improves FTP by adding security features such as authentication and encryption. File-sharing requests are authenticated by client certificates, server identities, and passwords.

The dual approach to encrypt data and verify authenticity makes FTPS much more secure than FTP; however, as threat actors become more sophisticated, cybersecurity experts become more cautious about using this file transfer standard to send sensitive data.

3. Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP)

SFTP is a file-sharing method based on the SSH protocol that runs most corporate networks. Unlike FTPS, SFTP assumes the server has authenticated the client. SFTP nevertheless encrypts the credentials and the files being transferred to unreadable format.

SFTP is the file sharing of choice in many internal networks and other critical file sharing applications. Once two devices communicate and verify each other, they connect, and file sharing happens.

One major limitation of FTPS that SFTP addresses is the compatibility with firewalls. FTPS uses multiple ports and a secondary data channel to transfer files, while SFTP uses a single connection.

Data Transfer Protocols: Understanding the Differences Between FTP, FTPS, and SFTP

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is the traditional method for transferring files over the internet. It does not encrypt data, so it can be prone to security risks. FTP over SSL/TLS (FTPS) adds encryption to FTP to enhance security by creating an encrypted connection between the client and server. Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) is a more secure version of FTP that uses Secure Shell (SSH) to encrypt data. Unlike FTPS, it is not an extension of FTP, but rather a secure alternative to FTP. SFTP is the most secure option of the three protocols, as it encrypts both the commands and data being transferred.

4. OpenPGP

OpenPGP is a standard for secure email and file transfer, developed by the OpenPGP Working Group of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). It uses public-key cryptography to provide confidentiality and authentication. By using public-key cryptography, OpenPGP can provide both confidentiality, or the protection of communication from unauthorized access, and authentication, which ensures the identity of the sender. With OpenPGP, users can encrypt their emails and files, protecting them from interception and unauthorized access. The protocol is highly flexible and can be integrated into a variety of email and messaging software, making it accessible to a wide range of users.

5. Managed File Transfer

While FTP, FTPS, and SFTP all support file sharing and data transmission, they all have inherent limitations in the modern workplace. With security becoming an integral feature of a robust file sharing protocol and other considerations such as efficiency and scalability, FTPS and SFTP are inadequate to support enterprise-level file sharing.

Managed file transfer (MFT) centralizes all the features of these other file-sharing protocols into one platform for secure, efficient, and compliant file transfers across organizations.

MFT platforms are designed in such a way that they ensure compliance with relevant regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA).

Managed file transfer can be procured as a software platform or a cloud service for internal and external use. MFT provides a single location to create, secure, encrypt, audit, audit logs, and monitor all actions in the file transfer process.


What to Look for in a File Transfer Protocol

In this section, we take a deep dive into the various factors to consider when selecting a reliable and secure file transfer protocol.

1. File Transfer Protocol and Security

When choosing the file transfer standard for your business, data security should be a major consideration. With heavy penalties for a data breach and reputation on the line, organizations should be very keen on the method they use to share files that might contain sensitive data.

Some factors to consider when choosing a secure file transfer standard include:

Secure File Transfer Encryption

Encryption is the process of converting data into a secret code to prevent unauthorized access. When transferring sensitive files, it is essential to ensure that the data is encrypted during transmission to protect against eavesdropping and other types of attacks. Therefore, it is crucial to choose a file transfer standard that offers strong encryption.

Secure File Transfer Authentication

Authentication is the process of verifying the identity of the sender and the recipient of the data. Authentication helps to prevent unauthorized access and ensures that the data is only accessible to the intended parties. Therefore, when selecting a file transfer standard, it is important to choose one that provides robust multi-factor authentication mechanisms.

Secure File Transfer Access Controls

Access controls are another essential security consideration. Access controls allow the administrator to specify who can access the data and what level of access they have. This ensures that only authorized personnel can access sensitive data and that they can only access the data that they need to perform their job. Therefore, it is essential to choose a file transfer standard that offers granular access controls.

Secure File Transfer Monitoring

File monitoring is crucial for ensuring the security of the data during transmission. Monitoring helps to detect and prevent attacks and unauthorized access. Therefore, it is essential to choose a file transfer standard that provides real-time file monitoring capabilities.

File Transfer Speed and Performance

Security is not the only factor to consider with secure file transfer. Speed, performance, scalability, and compression are also essential elements to take into account.

One key aspect to consider is latency, which can significantly impact the speed and performance of file transfers. Latency refers to the time it takes for data to travel from one point to another, and it can be affected by a range of factors. To ensure optimal performance, reducing latency is often a top priority for file transfer standards.

Another essential factor to consider with a file transfer standard is bandwidth. Bandwidth refers to the amount of data that can be transmitted over a network connection within a given time frame. When transferring large files, having sufficient bandwidth is critical to ensure that the transfer process is fast and efficient.

Scalability is another consideration to keep in mind when transferring files. As your organization grows and your file transfer needs increase, your secure file transfer standard must be able to handle the additional traffic and workload. Implementing a scalable file transfer solution can help ensure that your organization can efficiently transfer files as it grows.

Finally, compression can be a valuable tool when transferring files. By compressing files before transferring them, you can reduce the amount of data that needs to be transmitted, improving transfer times and reducing bandwidth usage.

File Transfer Data Backup and Recovery

Data backup and recovery are crucial aspects of any secure file transfer protocol. When transferring files, there is always a risk of data loss or corruption. In such cases, having a backup of the data is essential for ensuring that critical information is not permanently lost.

In addition, having a data backup and recovery system in place helps to ensure business continuity in the event of a disaster or system failure. By having a backup of all critical data, businesses can quickly restore their systems to full functionality, minimizing downtime and reducing the risk of financial loss.

A secure file transfer standard should include robust backup and recovery features that allow users to easily create and restore backups of their data. This should include options for automatic backups and version control, as well as a clear and simple process for restoring data in the event of a loss.

2. File Transfer Protocol and Compliance

If you handle personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI), financial data, and some categories of regulated federal data like controlled unclassified information (CUI), you have to comply with set standards of file transfers. Regulatory compliance should not be taken lightly; noncompliance can be costly and damaging to business reputation.

Let’s look at various industries with regulations that will inform your choice of a file transfer standard.

File Transfer Protocol for Healthcare

HIPAA and HITECH demand that PHI and other healthcare records be encrypted before being shared with external parties like insurance providers and consulting physicians. If you are in the healthcare industry, MFT would be a no-brainer to demonstrate compliance since this file transfer standard supports end-to-end encryption.

File Transfer Protocol for Federal

The Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) requires federal agencies to develop, document, and implement an information security and protection program. It aims to reduce the security risk of federal information and data getting into the wrong hands.

File Transfer Protocol for Financial Services

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) places the obligation to protect sensitive PII on financial services institutions that generate, store, or share this data. GLBA requires financial services providers to protect sensitive information, which includes corporate financial records, individual account statements, insurance information, and much more. Financial services institutions must also inform their customers their wish to share their data with partners and give their customers the option to opt out of data-sharing.

File Transfer Protocol for Retail

The retail industry collects and stores customers’ PII and payment information, namely credit card data. The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) mandates retailers to have encryption controls to protect this data which, if intercepted or mishandled, can lead to identity theft and fraud.

Integrating a File Transfer Standard With Other Tools and Platforms

When considering secure file transfer standards, it’s important to evaluate their compatibility with other tools and platforms. For example, if you’re using a particular software application or operating system, you’ll want to ensure that your chosen file transfer standard is compatible. Additionally, you may want to consider how well your chosen standard integrates with other tools and platforms you’re using, such as your email client or your file management system.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) are an important consideration when choosing a secure file transfer standard. An API allows software applications to communicate with each other, and can greatly enhance the functionality of your file transfer standard. For example, you may want to use APIs to automate certain file transfer processes or to integrate your file transfer standard with other software applications.

Cloud storage is another important consideration when choosing a secure file transfer standard. Many businesses are now storing their files in the cloud, and it’s important to ensure that your chosen standard is compatible with your cloud storage provider. Additionally, you’ll want to consider your cloud storage solution’s security capabilities, as well as the ease of use and reliability of your chosen standard when transferring files to and from the cloud.

When choosing a secure file transfer standard, it’s important to consider how well it integrates with automation tools such as scripting languages or workflow automation software. Additionally, you may want to consider the level of automation provided by your chosen standard, as well as any security features that may be available to protect your files during the transfer process.

Additionally, if your organization uses other security tools such as firewalls or intrusion detection systems, it’s important to ensure that the secure transfer platform is compatible with those tools and can work seamlessly alongside them.

File Transfer Standard Ease of Use and User Experience

When considering a secure transfer platform, there are several factors to keep in mind to ensure that the platform is also user-friendly.

One of the first decisions you will need to make is whether to use a graphical user interface (GUI) or a command-line interface (CLI). A GUI can make it easier for users to navigate the platform and perform tasks, especially for those who may not be familiar with command-line interfaces. However, a CLI may offer more flexibility and control, especially for power users or those who prefer a more streamlined interface. Ultimately, the choice between a GUI and CLI will depend on the needs of your organization and the preferences of your users.

You will also want to make sure that the platform offers robust user management features, such as the ability to easily add or remove users, assign different levels of permissions or access, and audit user activity. Additionally, the platform should provide a secure authentication mechanism, such as two-factor authentication, to ensure that only authorized users can access the platform.

Enterprise File Transfer Solutions

Organizations are constantly transferring, sharing, or moving files internally and externally, locally and remotely. Secure file transfer, therefore, must be a core capability of any organization, not just for data protection but also for efficiency and to remain competitive.

If you want security, control, and compliance, then you should look beyond file transfer standards like FTP and SFTP. An MFT solution can offer your organization exactly what it needs to maintain control over file sharing and transmission without jeopardizing customer/patient privacy or regulatory compliance. Only a secure managed file transfer solution lets you accelerate your business and protect your organization. Here are eight reasons why MFT is the best solution for enterprise file transfer:

1. MFT and Security

Security is paramount when it comes to transferring sensitive data. Traditional file transfer solutions such as FTP and HTTP do not have built-in security features. This makes them vulnerable to cyber threats like hacking and data breaches. On the other hand, managed file transfer uses advanced encryption standards such as AES-256 and SSL/TLS to secure data in transit and at rest. It also provides granular access controls, audit trails, and authentication to ensure that only authorized users can access data.

2. MFT and Compliance

Compliance with data privacy regulations is critical for organizations that handle sensitive data. MFT offers features such as data encryption, secure data storage, and audit trails that ensure compliance with standards like HIPAA, PCI DSS, and GDPR. Compliance with these regulations is mandatory for organizations that operate in regulated industries such as healthcare, finance, and government.

3. MFT and Automation

MFT automates the entire file transfer process from start to finish. This helps to reduce manual errors, improve efficiency, and increase productivity. It also eliminates the need for manual data entry, file transfers, and monitoring, which can be time-consuming and prone to errors.

4. MFT and Scalability

MFT can handle large volumes of data and scale to meet the needs of growing businesses. It provides the ability to transfer files of any size without affecting performance. This is particularly important for organizations that need to transfer large files, such as media files or data backups.

5. MFT and Reliability

MFT is designed to deliver data reliably and accurately. It provides features like resume transfer, file integrity checks, and error handling mechanisms that ensure data is transmitted without errors. This ensures that data is delivered on time and that there are no data losses or discrepancies.

6. MFT and Centralized Management

MFT provides centralized management of file transfer activities. This eliminates the need for multiple file transfer solutions and simplifies the management of data transfers. It also provides a single view of all file transfer activities, enabling administrators to monitor, track, and manage data transfers from a single console.

7. MFT and Integration

MFT integrates with various systems and applications, including ERP, CRM, and other business systems. This enables businesses to automate data transfer workflows and streamline their business processes. Integration with other systems also provides a single source of truth for data transfer activities, which helps to reduce errors and ensure data accuracy.

8. MFT and Cost-effectiveness

MFT offers a cost-effective and reliable way to transfer sensitive data. Traditional file transfer solutions such as FTP and HTTP require additional investments in security, compliance, and monitoring tools. This can quickly become expensive and time-consuming for businesses. Managed file transfer solutions, on the other hand, provide a comprehensive and secure file transfer solution without the need for additional investments in security or compliance solutions.

In summary, MFT is a more secure, reliable, and cost-effective way of transferring sensitive data than traditional file transfer solutions such as FTP and HTTP. It offers various features like automation, scalability, centralized management, and integration that make it ideal for businesses that handle large volumes of sensitive data. With the increasing need for data security and compliance, managed file transfer is becoming a necessity for businesses that value the security and integrity of their data.

Kiteworks Helps Organizations Achieve Regulatory Compliance With Every Secure File Transfer

MFT is a comprehensive file transfer solution that provides end-to-end encryption, secure processing, and robust collaboration features to ensure the safe and reliable transfer of sensitive data. The Kiteworks Private Content Network is a secure file transfer and file sharing platform designed with a robust set of features to facilitate regulatory compliance and integrate with existing security and compliance tools, enabling businesses to streamline compliance efforts and achieve greater visibility into their security posture.

This makes it easier for organizations to comply with regulatory requirements and avoid the risk of data breaches or noncompliance penalties.

Here are just a few of the critical security features in Kiteworks Managed File Transfer:

1. Encryption and Authentication Restrict Access to Sensitive Content

Kiteworks provides end-to-end encryption and strong authentication protocols to ensure that content remains secure during transit and at rest using advanced encryption algorithms such as AES-256, SSL, and TLS. This ensures that sensitive files are not compromised by unauthorized access or accidental loss or exposure.

2. Comprehensive Audit Logs Track User Activity

Kiteworks provides detailed audit logs and reporting capabilities that allow organizations to track and monitor user activity, thereby ensuring compliance with regulations such as HIPAA, FedRAMP, GDPR, and PCI DSS. This ensures that businesses can easily demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements and avoid potential fines and legal liabilities.

3. Access Controls Ensure Only Authorized Personnel Have Access to Sensitive Content

Kiteworks offers granular access controls and permissions, enabling organizations to enforce policies and ensure that only authorized personnel have access to specific files and content. This helps organizations comply with data protection regulations that require them to control access to sensitive content.

4. Data Loss Prevention Integrations Prevent Data Leaks

Kiteworks offers data loss prevention features such as watermarking, redaction, and restricted access to prevent data leaks and unauthorized data access. These features can help organizations comply with regulations that require data protection.

5. Granular Permissions Limit Access to Sensitive Content According to Users’ Roles

Kiteworks MFT offers granular and customizable permissions that allow the customers to specify who can access the files and what actions they can perform. It ensures that only authorized users have access to the sensitive data.

6. Multi-platform Compatibility Rivaled Only By Enterprise Application Integrations

Kiteworks MFT is compatible with various platforms and operating systems, including Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. In addition, Kiteworks integrates with leading business applications like Microsoft Office 365, Google Drive, Salesforce, iManage, and others. Even better, Kiteworks APIs enable businesses to build their own integrations. Put these all together and it’s easy for users to access and share files from anywhere and on any device.

7. Robust Collaboration Features

Kiteworks MFT provides robust and intuitive collaboration features that enable users to collaborate with colleagues and clients without compromising security. It offers virtual workspaces, chat, and annotation tools that allow the users to communicate effectively.

8. Integration With Kiteworks Private Content Network

Kiteworks MFT is part of the Kiteworks Private Content Network (PCN), a comprehensive data security platform that provides a unified approach to data security. It delivers several benefits to customers, such as easy access and sharing of files, simplified IT management, and reduced costs. The integration with Kiteworks PCN delivers several benefits to customers, making it a unique and valuable solution. For example, with Kiteworks PCN, customers can streamline their data security efforts with a centralized management interface, allowing IT teams to monitor all file transfers and access permissions from a single dashboard.

To learn more about Kiteworks’ Secure Managed File Transfer solution, schedule a custom demo of the Kiteworks Private Content Network today.

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