When you need to exchange sensitive files with customers or business partners, simply tacking them onto e-mails as attachments isn’t an option — at least not if you’re governed by any of the alphabet soup of data privacy regulations. Rather, you need a secure file transfer product, such as Ipswitch’s WS_FTP Server 7.5.
If you think the latest version of WS_FTP is the same FTP server it was a decade ago, think again. File transfer technology is more secure than ever before, and the FTP options introduced in version 7.5 make this latest version of WS_FTP Server worth serious consideration.
WS_FTP Server is compatible with Windows 2003 or 2008 servers (both 32- and 64-bit versions) as well as XP Professional systems. For those looking to run their FTP server in a virtualized environment, WS_FTP Server also supports Microsoft’s Hyper-V and VMWare’s ESX platforms.
WS_FTP Server is available in three flavors, which differ mainly in the number of encrypted file transfer options available. The base $695 WS_FTP Server provides standard FTP and secure SSL/FTPS transfers. A $1,495 step-up Server with SSH edition adds — you guessed it — SSH/SFTP support. Finally, the top-level WS_FTP Server Corporate further adds SCP2 as well as browser-based HTTP/S transfers, which eliminates the need for users to have FTP client software. All quoted prices include one-year support agreements. The two lesser versions of WS_FTP Server offer HTTP/S as a $2,495 add-on module. All WS_FTP Server versions offer 256-bit AES encryption for transfers and use SHA-512 to verify the integrity of files. FIPS 140-2 validation is also included, although it’s not enabled by default.
WS_FTP Server is completely self-contained, so it doesn’t necessarily require an external database or Web server. On the database side, WS_FTP Server includes an integrated copy of Postsgre SQL 8.3.7, but it will also work with Microsoft SQL Server 2005/2008, either Standard or Express. The Postsgre database must be installed on the same system as WS_FTP Server, but Microsoft’s can be remote. Similarly, you can integrate WS_FTP Server with Microsoft’s IIS server, or use the product’s own embedded Web server. Note, however, that use of the HTTP/S module requires IIS 5.0 or later.
Setup and Administration
Getting WS_FTP Server installed and running is a pretty simple affair, especially if you choose the Express install to automatically use the embedded database and Web server, as we did on a Windows 2003 Server. The administration control panel is browser-based — rather than application-based — so it offers both local and remote access. It’s also responsive and well laid out, with the host and server configuration options logically organized and easy to find.
In addition to using WS_FTP Server’s internal database to store user accounts, you can authenticate users via a number of external sources — NT/Active Directory, ODBC. With the Corporate edition, LDAP is also an option. WS_FTP Server defines Host and System Administrator roles, which allows control over individual sites to be delegated to various users without giving all of them access to global server settings.
WS_FTP Server provides visibility into the FTP server’s communications with Session Manager, where you can monitor the status of user connections and file transfers and disconnect users if needed. Session Manager’s repetoire is relatively limited compared to (recently reviewed) Serv-U, whose Spy and Chat feature includes the ability to directly view logs for individual sessions, communicate with connected users via chat or broadcast message, or abort a file transfer in progress without killing the entire session.
WS_FTP Server gives you the option to log information about administrator activity and client/server connections to the internal database or a separate syslog server. The built-in log viewer provides filters and color-coded entries for easier perusal, and logs can be saved as XML files for offline viewing.
Administrator notifications are available via e-mail, SMS, or pager. Once parameters and recipients have been defined, notifications can be applied via the product’s rules engine, where they can accompany other operations triggered by system events, such as failed logins, various types of folder activity, or exceeding a storage quota. If desired, both the logging and notification components can be run apart from the core FTP server and accessed remotely.
Ad Hoc Module
In addition to the aforementioned HTTP/S Web client module, WS_FTP Server offers an optional Ad Hoc File Transfer module, which is new to version 7.5. Although it’s pricey ($3,495) and the install process is more involved than the FTP server itself (IIS is required and there are other configuration prerequisites), the Ad Hoc Transfer Module offers a number of important benefits, not the least of which is the ability to send files securely and to recipients outside your organization without having to first create accounts for them on the FTP server.
With the Ad Hoc module you specify a recipient by e-mail address, who in turn receives a direct download link to the files stored on the FTP server (and which can be password protected). Links can be set to expire after a certain amount of time or a specified number of downloads. Ad Hoc file transfers can be performed either through a browser interface or via an Outlook 2003/2007 plug-in, which adds a new “Send Secure” button to the familiar message compose box. The nice thing about the Outlook plug-in in particular is that, with a properly configured mail server, you can essentially eliminate the need for conventional file attachments and conduct all of an organization’s file transfers within the auspices of a secure FTP environment that can be better managed and monitored.
Although WS_FTP Server is pretty strong on its own, the security and simplicity afforded by the new Ad Hoc File Transfer module is probably reason enough to give WS_FTP Server 7.5 serious consideration. It’s available as a 30-day trial download (with all the optional components included).
Joseph Moran is co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7 (friends of ED, 2009).