Free FTP server software is tempting when your IT budget is stretched, or when you don’t want to go through a long and cumbersome purchasing process. There are many good freeware options available, but in a corporate environment, these may carry risks. Here are some things to consider while searching for FTP Server Software:
Security First. Sometimes, you do get what you pay for. To be certain you’re getting what you need and nothing less, investigate security features thoroughly.
Make sure the software you choose is up-to-date. Keeping software current is important; security standards change constantly. You should know if the product was designed with modern encryption algorithms rather than last year’s cracked RSA keys. How often is the software updated? Check to see if there’s a history of versions and changes made in the past.
Is it standards compliant? Pay attention to the foundation the product is built on. Does the product comply with all the standard RFCs? These are technical notes on the current state of nearly every aspect of the Internet, including security, functionality, and networking, as maintained by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Software should comply with the latest RFC standards, which cover encryption methods, what it takes to implement them successfully, and what their security risks are. In short, RFC standards help the Internet function by giving developers a common standard to build toward. Software can work without adhering to the RFCs, but you don’t want it to. For instance, if your freeware attempts to transfer data using a protocol that isn’t RFC compliant, it may be incompatible with the client software, or custom applications that adhere to the protocol standard.
You don’t want to get months down the road with a product, only to find that the product you chose isn’t equipped to deal with all of your needs. You may find a rarely-used but vital feature isn’t included, and then you’re on the hunt for either a new FTP solution, or a software add-on to fix the problem.
Who exactly are the developers, anyway? Is the developer working from a secure environment, or down the street on an unsecured Starbucks wireless network? Are development tools kept up to date, with all security patches installed? Does the developer use a reliable source code control system, or is source code stored in the cloud where it may be susceptible to malware attacks? Vulnerable development environments can lead to corrupted software tainted with spy software by third parties. Developers of commercial products typically address these types of issues.
Speaking of support… All software occasionally needs support. Whether bugs pop up, users are confused by a quirky UI element, or technical maneuvering is required to get the product to play nicely with other software, you will likely need to get in touch with someone supporting your freeware. Where do you turn to for help? The product may be free, but do the developers support it? Is there a community forum? A ticketing system or any way to report an issue? Once you’ve reported a problem, how responsive are the support techs?
Unfortunately, freeware vendors often don’t have the time to answer every inquiry, because they aren’t making enough to support keeping a staff on hand specifically to handle support. The pricing for paid products usually includes support and maintenance. To keep your business, commercial software companies have incentive to address product bugs and customer confusion promptly.
The Big Picture
For personal use, or for those who only want to dabble in new software for a very limited time, free alternatives to paid software can be well worth the risks. Always keep a strong firewall configuration and a keen eye for suspicious downloads, and investigate carefully to make sure you’re getting what you think you are. However, for enterprise-level work, where reliability and support represent savings in time and money, freeware may not be your best option.
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