What is an FTP Server and how is an FTP Server Used?

Categories: Security | SFTP

An FTP Server is a software application that enables the transfer of files from one computer to another. FTP (which stands for “File Transfer Protocol”) is a communication protocol that enables these transfers. FTP Server Software is required to enable File transfers. A transfer may occur between one FTP Server and another, or between a browser or FTP Client and an FTP Server. 

FTP Explained
FTP is a standard internet protocol used for the transfer of files between two computers on a network. FTP was developed in the 1970s to allow computers to transfer data over the internet. One computer acts as the server to store the files and the other acts as the client to send or request those files from the server. 

What Do FTP Servers Do?
FTP servers, and the more secure SFTP Server software, perform 2 basic tasks: “Put” and “Get.” You can put files on the FTP Server or get files from the FTP Server. If security is not a concern, FTP Server software is an easy and inexpensive way to allow users to put or upload files to the server, or to get/download files from the server.

Practical Uses of FTP Servers:

  1. Remote Work Collaboration: Facilitates the upload of non-sensitive data, such as timesheets by remote employees, and allows for file access across geographical boundaries.
  2. Customer Resource Sharing: Enable customers to download white papers and documentation, enhancing user experience and knowledge dissemination.
  3. Business Partner Data Exchange: Execute batch data transfers to exchange non-sensitive information with business partners and vendors.
  4. Integration with Backup Applications: Beyond their standalone functionalities, FTP and SFTP Servers integrate with backup applications. For instance, the secure storage of Cisco Unified Call Manager (CUCM) backups necessitates the use of an SFTP Server like Titan SFTP Server, ensuring the integrity and confidentiality of critical data.

Are FTP Servers Secure?
In a word, no. FTP protocol transmits data in plain text, which risks data being intercepted or manipulated. FTP servers also enable anonymous access, meaning users can access data without credentials. There are ways to make an FTP Server more secure, including running FTP over TLS, which is an encrypted tunnel that prevents data from being accessed in transit, turning off anonymous access, and enforcing strong password policies.

FTP Server Alternatives

A more modern, secure and efficient alternative to FTP Server Software is a natively secure SFTP Server. SFTP Protocol is encrypted, so additional layers aren’t necessary to ensure secure transmissions, and anonymous access isn’t enabled by default. Cloud-based SFTP Servers have also become popular, cost-effective options for business. 

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