ServersThere's Nothing Cute About Secure File Transfers

There’s Nothing Cute About Secure File Transfers

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Secure FTP Server: FTP server offering souped-up security for file transfers

Secure FTP Server, nee CuteFTP, has a long history in the enterprise FTP space. True to its name, the latest generation of the product is well-designed and easy-to-use — and it carries a reasonable price tag.

It’s hard not to feel old when you can recall the family lineage of software products. Has it been the “Information Age” for that long already? GlobalScape’s FTP software products descend from their forbearers, the CuteFTP family — one of the early and most popular GUI-based FTP applications for Windows. Sensing that CuteFTP is not the most credible moniker for an enterprise audience, in July 2002, GlobalScape renamed the server application Secure FTP Server (or GlobalScape FTP Server, depending on the literature you’re looking at).

Its FTP client continues to hold the well-known CuteFTP name.

Secure FTP Server is a trim 4 MB download that installs into 6 MB of space — pretty lightweight for today’s 100 GB hard disks. Its standard InstallShield wizard is a breeze. It asks intelligent questions on the initial setup and allows you to have the server up and running in minutes. Once installed, the server consists of two components: the Windows service and an administration client.

The Windows administration interface can manage both the local Secure FTP Server and remote Secure FTP Servers (assuming they are configured to allow remote configuration). The interface is clean and well-designed. It presents Secure FTP servers as a tree within which there may be multiple servers, user groups, and shared folders. It does not, however, offer a Web-based administration interface, which limits the usefulness of remote administration.

Secure FTP Server is, as the name implies, especially focused on integrity in the file transfer process. It includes several features to enhance an organization’s ability to control and secure file transfers between servers and clients. The Virtual File System (VFS) enables the administrator to overlay access permissions onto file system folders. The admin can set it so that, for example, a folder called “Documents” on his server is fully accessible to local users (to read, write, delete, and so on). Through Secure FTP, he can also superimpose a read-only permission so users accessing the folder via FTP do not share the same privileges as those local to the server. Furthermore, he can assign different sets of permissions to user groups within Secure FTP Server.

Speaking of user groups, Secure FTP defaults to an internal user authentication system. However, you can circumvent the built-in user controls and connect to an ODBC or Active Directory authentication service, thus eliminating the need to maintain separate sets of user controls in a domain with centralized authentication.

Central to Secure FTP’s feature set is support for SSH2. SSH or “secure shell” is a cryptography system that encrypts communications between server and client. FTP servers without SSH support send information, such as user and password data, across the network in the clear, leaving them vulnerable to interception. The SSH2 protocol requires keys be generated for the host and clients. It uses methods that can be complex and arcane on many systems.

GlobalScape has streamlined this process so that using the administration GUI enables easy generation and management of SSH2 keys. The software also allows you to choose from many available encryption and MAC algorithms, although most organizations will not need to do so. However, even though Secure FTP Server’s central claim to fame is its SSH2 support, this feature is actually an add-on pack that costs $195 on top of the base product.

While on the one hand, it seems a little odd and perhaps questionable to name a product based on a feature that costs extra, Secure FTP Server does also support SSL, another form of secure connection. Here, too, the interface makes it easy to create and manage SSL certificates.

Moving beyond security, another enterprise friendly feature in Secure FTP Server is event-based rules. With this back-end automation system, you can configure the server to perform actions triggered by events. For example, you can create a rule that an e-mail be generated when a certain file is uploaded or downloaded. You can also create timed rules so archiving encryption occurs at specific intervals.

Despite the need to purchase an add-on pack to truly fulfill the product’s own name, Secure FTP Server is reasonably priced for a product this well-designed. It is worthy of the short list for enterprises and organizations relying on high integrity file transfers.

Pros: Easy-to-use management interface; SSH support; Convenient event trigger system; Reasonable price
Cons: Lacks Web-based remote administration; SSH support costs extra

Reviewed by: Aaron Weiss
Original Review Date: 4/21/2004
Original Review Version: 2.0

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