Zero Trust Data Access as an FTP Alternative

Zero Trust Data Access (ZTDA) is an FTP alternative that offers enhanced security, regulatory compliance, simplified management, and improved user experience.

24 Reasons to Use Zero Trust Data Access as an FTP Alternative

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Table of Contents

    1. Rethinking Data Transfer: Challenges of Traditional FTP and the Rise of Zero Trust Data Access (ZTDA)
    2. What is FTP?
    3. 19 Issues and Challenges of Traditional File Transfer Methods in General
    4. Is There a Better FTP Alternative?
    5. 24 Reasons to Use Zero Trust Data Access as a Better FTP Alternative
    6. Conclusion – Zero Trust Data Access (ZTDA): A Modern FTP Alternative for Enhanced Security and Efficiency


Rethinking Data Transfer: Challenges of Traditional FTP and the Rise of Zero Trust Data Access (ZTDA)

FTP InfographicIn the realm of data transfer, the traditional FTP (File Transfer Protocol) faces a myriad of challenges, ranging from security vulnerabilities to scalability issues. Recent breaches and the evolving landscape of data security have highlighted the necessity for a more advanced solution. This article explores the limitations of FTP, SFTP, and FTPS, and introduces Zero Trust Data Access (ZTDA) as a modern FTP alternative, offering enhanced security, regulatory compliance, simplified management, and improved user experience. It delves into the benefits of ZTDA and its potential to address the complexities and security concerns associated with traditional FTP, ultimately providing a comprehensive solution for unstructured data transfer in the digital age.

What is FTP?

FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. It is a standard network protocol used to transfer files from one computer to another over a TCP/IP-based network, such as the Internet or a local area network (LAN). It is used for uploading and downloading files, file backups, large file distribution and website publishing. Secure versions of FTP such as FTPS and SFTP add encryption and authentication features.

19 Issues and Challenges of Traditional File Transfer Methods in General

  1. Real Security Concerns:

    • There have been serious breaches of File Transfer Services. Anonymous use, data breaches and unauthorized access are significant concerns. FTP/FTPS/SFTP systems also expose additional attack surface that might be exposed to threat actors looking to exploit vulnerabilities and gain access to both data and systems.
  2. Operating System Dependent:

    • From a security perspective, FTPs are usually dependent and tied to the base operating system of the server they are installed on. This means that if the base OS is not regularly patched and updated then the FTP solution becomes vulnerable.
  3. Weak Access Protection:

    • FTP are typically based on simple user/password as access credentials and can’t typically be further enhanced for login access. This makes them vulnerable to leaked/shared/hacked user credentials that will give unauthorized access to people without the owner and or company knowledge.
  4. Inadequate Scalability:

    • As organizations grow, their file transfer needs also expand. Managing scalability to accommodate increased data volumes and user demands can be challenging, requiring regular infrastructure upgrades.
  5. Difficult Integration:

    • File transfer solutions often need to integrate with various systems, applications, and protocols. Compatibility and seamless integration can be complex, especially in heterogeneous IT environments.
  6. Compliance and Regulatory Challenges:

    • Many industries have strict compliance requirements governing data transfers. Ensuring that file transfers adhere to these regulations, such as GDPR or HIPAA, is a constant challenge.
  7. Poor Monitoring and Reporting:

    • File transfer services either lack or have ineffective management tools for real-time tracking, logging, and monitoring of file transfers needed for troubleshooting issues, forensic investigation, malicious activity detection and mitigation of ransomware attacks.
  8. Dependence on User Training and Adoption:

    • Ensuring that employees understand and adopt secure file transfer practices is essential. Inadequate training can lead to inadvertent security breaches.
  9. Continual Management of Performance Optimization:

    • Optimizing file transfer speeds, especially for large files or over long distances, can be a constant concern. This requires bandwidth management and optimization strategies.
  10. Expensive:

    • Managing the cost of file transfer solutions, including licensing, infrastructure, and ongoing maintenance, is essential to ensure efficient resource allocation.
  11. Excessive Complexity:

    • FTP/FTPS/SFTP requires a significant number of operations to move files in/out of different locations and systems. This creates multiple copies and hence increases the complexity of managing these files.
  12. Produces Data Duplication and Lacks Version Control:

    • Data must be duplicated on the FTP storage site. This must be done manually and managed by the user and it increases the threat surface. Keeping track of multiple versions of files can be tricky, especially in collaborative environments and files are kept on both receiving and sending ends for far longer than might be necessarily required.
  13. Requires Maintenance:

    • Legacy requirements encourage little incentive to change or evolve (patching or upgrades)
  14. Unable to Detect Attacks:

    • Risk Most of these legacy file transfer protocols are unable to detect a brute force or dictionary attack and respond appropriately. Instead, dependency is on external technical controls such as firewalls, IPS and similar devices is required to bridge the gaps.
  15. Unfamiliar User Experience:

    • File transfer technology is not always user-friendly and efficient and new workflow needs to be learned. A poor user experience can lead to frustration and decreased productivity.
  16. Often are Legacy Systems:

    • Many organizations still rely on legacy file transfer solutions that may not meet modern security or scalability standards. Transitioning away from these systems can be challenging.
  17. Specific Issues for FTP (File Transfer Protocol):

    • FTP lacks built-in encryption, and data is transmitted in plain text, making it vulnerable to eavesdropping and data interception. It typically relies on basic username and password authentication, which may not be sufficient for organizations with stringent security requirements. Its use of multiple ports (control and data ports) can create problems when traversing firewalls and Network Address Translation (NAT) devices, leading to connectivity issues and it lacks mechanisms for ensuring data integrity during transmission. Any corruption of the data during transfer can go unnoticed.
  1. Specific Issues for SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol):

    • SFTP can be more challenging to set up and configure for users who are not familiar with SSH key authentication and command-line interfaces. Managing SSH keys for authentication can be complex, especially in environments with numerous users and servers and SFTP lacks advanced automation features, making it less suitable for organizations with complex, automated file transfer workflows.
  1. Specific Issues for FTPS (FTP Secure):


    • FTPS requires the use of SSL/TLS certificates, which can be complex to manage and maintain. Expired or incorrectly configured certificates can disrupt file transfers. It uses multiple ports for control and data transfer, which can complicate connectivity and firewall configurations. FTPS may encounter firewall and NAT traversal challenges when dealing with secure data connections. Its support for various FTP clients and servers can vary, leading to compatibility issues. Additionally, FTPS may require careful configuration of authentication methods, and issues can arise when server and client configurations do not match and FTPS may lack advanced automation and workflow features, requiring third-party solutions for more complex use cases.

Is There a Better FTP Alternative?

Traditional file transfer presents an enterprise organization with increased risks associated with their information and system assets requiring efforts and costs in managing legacy protocols that have no business in an advanced and mature digital organization.  A more modern FTP alternative is needed that addresses these issues.  Zero Trust Data Access (ZTDA) as implemented by FileFlex Enterprise, is a technology that provides secure access to files and folders for authorized users through a zero-trust architecture. This architecture uses a server that verifies users and specific permissions for that user then via a connector agent sends the requested files to that user much like the way a bank teller is used in a bank.  The fundamental principle of Zero Trust Data Access is that access to data should be granted only on a need-to-know basis, and every access request should be authenticated and authorized against policy before granting access. Under the Zero Trust Data Access model, every data access request is verified against a set of rules that dictate what data can be accessed, and by whom.

24 Reasons to Use Zero Trust Data Access as a Better FTP Alternative

Transitioning to Zero Trust Data Access (ZTDA) as implemented by FileFlex Enterprise is an excellent FTP alternative and offers several key advantages for organizations as follows:

  1. Brings Cutting-Edge Security:

    • ZTDA provides a more comprehensive and adaptive security approach compared to traditional file transfer services by continuously verifying and authorizing every access request, reducing the risk of data breaches and cyberattacks.
  2. Reduces the Risk of Ransomware:

    • By limiting access to sensitive data, monitoring user activity, and restricting lateral movement, ZTDA can help prevent ransomware attacks and minimize their impact on data integrity.
  3. Is Not Dependent on the OS:

    • ZTDA as implemented by FileFlex is self-contained and not dependent on the base OS for its security solution thus less vulnerable to un-maintained OS updates.
  4. Offers Strong Access Control:

    • ZTDA as implemented by FileFlex has multiple account security access methods to ensure that the correct user is accessing the data and account. It includes TFA, MFA, SSO, IAM and Device Authentication support that are much more difficult to hack, share or leak.
  5. Aids Superior Regulatory Compliance:

    • ZTDA facilitates compliance with data privacy regulations like HIPAA, GDPR, CIRCI, CMMC, ISO 27001, DORA and ENISA, ensuring that only authorized users can access sensitive data, a challenge often faced by file transfer services.
  6. Produces Exceptional Insider Threat Mitigation:

    • ZTDA effectively mitigates insider threats, such as unauthorized access by employees or contractors, by strictly controlling access based on user roles and responsibilities.
  7. Supplies Simplified Management:

    • ZTDA simplifies security management with a unified approach applicable to all users, reducing complexity in managing diverse access methods—a contrast to the complexities often associated with file transfer services.
  8. Offers Enhanced User Experience:

    • While prioritizing security, ZTDA integrates seamlessly as a drive into Windows Explorer and all Windows apps such as Microsoft 365, Adobe and AutoCAD. This federates on-premises, cloud, SharePoint and FTP storage and integrates that storage into established workflows, providing a user-friendly experience and improving access to data.
  9. Has No Duplication:

    • ZTDA accesses and shares data from its original location with no duplication. This also helps with version control.
  10. Provides Excellent Data Governance:

    • ZTDA enforces granular access controls and policies consistently across various data sources, promoting effective data governance, a challenge often faced with decentralized file transfer solutions.
  11. Delivers Unique Federated Storage Management:

    • ZTDA streamlines access and sharing management across on-premises, cloud-hosted, SharePoint and FTP data repositories, improving user experience, allowing central access control, reducing administrative burdens, and enhancing operational efficiency.
  12. Yields Improved Data Visibility and Control:

    • ZTDA provides detailed activity logs for data access and sharing, enabling IT managers to monitor user behavior, detect anomalies, and identify potential security threats, offering greater insights than typical file transfer solutions.
  13. Reduces Complexity:

    • ZTDA simplifies access management by unifying authentication, authorization, and access control, reducing complexity in managing access, unlike complex FTP setups.
  14. Improves Secure Collaboration:

    • ZTDA enables secure data sharing and collaboration with access controls aligned to user roles and needs, promoting teamwork while ensuring data security—a capability not inherent in FTP solutions.
  15. Reduces Infrastructure Load and Scalability:

    • ZTDA can scale to handle growing data volumes and storage locations, reducing infrastructure requirements and the need for data duplication.
  16. Gives Distinctive Granular Contractor Access:

    • Organizations can grant contractors access to specific resources based on micro-segmentation and least privilege principles, reducing the risk associated with providing FTP access to external parties.
  17. Extends Centralized Control with Decentralized Administration:

    • ZTDA allows decentralized administration for subsidiaries and partners while maintaining centralized IT control and visibility, a feature FTP does not provide.
  18. Delivers Remarkable Granular File and Folder Micro-Segmentation:

    • ZTDA offers micro-segmentation down to the file and folder level, enhancing network security, compliance, and incident response, capabilities beyond the scope of FTP.
  19. Does Not Allow Direct Access to Infrastructure:

    • Users and recipients cannot directly access the storage infrastructure, enhancing security by abstracting users from the infrastructure, an advantage over FTP.
  20. Adds Secure File Sharing:

    • ZTDA includes secure file-sharing capabilities, eliminating the need for additional file-sharing platforms and enhancing security by aligning file-sharing activities with Zero Trust principles. End-users can easily share access to large unstructured files and folders along with options to view/stream them directly from source locations without having to move any data. In addition, shareable access can be extended to external guest users and groups.
  21. Provides Creation of Virtual Data Rooms:

    • Users can set up as many rooms with as many users as they need, and IT can set permissions on a user-by-user basis at no additional costs. In addition, the rooms can be facilitated from any repository, and all user activity is logged for analytics, monitoring, and alerts.
  1. Brings an IT-Controlled Chain of Command:

    • The management console provides granular control over permission levels down to the file level, protecting sensitive data with a level of control that FTP cannot match.

  2. Facilitates User to User, User to Server, and Server to Server Sharing, Access, and File Transfer:

    • Data lift and shifts between servers, timed windows of access for users, both between themselves and to the servers that they are discretely assigned access to. All scenarios are covered.
  1. Is a Low-Cost Model:

    • ZTDA as implemented by FileFlex Enterprise operates on a cost-effective subscription model with flat fixed pricing and no cost creep, offering savings compared to the maintenance, upgrading, patching, and infrastructure costs often associated with file transfer solutions. It is easy to maintain and in most cases, no additional investment in manpower, servers or storage is required.

Conclusion – Zero Trust Data Access (ZTDA): A Modern FTP Alternative for Enhanced Security and Efficiency

The early 2023 security breaches in File Transfer services, exemplified by GoAnywhere and MOVEit, revealed the vulnerabilities of traditional file transfer methods. These incidents emphasized the need for a more robust data transfer approach. Zero Trust Data Access (ZTDA) as implemented by FileFlex Enterprise emerges as a modern FTP alternative, offering cutting-edge security, ransomware prevention, regulatory compliance, simplified management, enhanced user experiences, and more. Transitioning to ZTDA provides organizations with a comprehensive solution to address the challenges and complexities associated with FTP for unstructured data while delivering superior security and efficiency.

For further reading see Why Organizations Need Zero Trust Data Access as a Managed File Transfer Alternative, Why replacing FTP with ZTDA is a No-Brainer, How to Securely Share Data, and Zero Trust Data Access Methods.

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Tom Ward is the VP of Marketing for Qnext Corp. He is an expert in the technology industry with a history of achievement. Tom holds an MBA from the Schulich School of Business at York University.