Evolution of File Transfer Methods: What Is the Safest Way to Transfer Files and Why

Evolution of File Transfer Methods: What Is the Safest Way to Transfer Files and Why

When sending a PDF file to your coworker, you don’t dwell on it too much. Most likely, you just upload it and press “Send.” However, the underlying technology behind file transfers took decades to build and become seamless.

Files and data come in many forms: text, PDFs, graphics, video, documents, and multimedia. When such a file needs to be transferred, a communication protocol decides how the information will go from one device to another.

The most common standards for today are HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol), TCP (transmission control protocol), and FTP (file transfer protocol). Let’s take a look at their origins and how they have become so integrated into our digital lives.

The evolution of file transfers

Back in the old days, when the “Save” icon was just a floppy disk, people wanted to figure out a new way to distribute digital content. That was in the 1970s, which is conveniently the time when Usenet appeared. Usenet was a file-sharing platform that allowed people to post news, like an electronic bulletin board. It was one of the first ways to share data with other people.

Fifteen years later, FTP came to life. It’s a file transfer standard that uses the same syntax and rules to allow users to transfer data. In the 90s, when the internet became a global sensation, AOL (America Online) entered the market—emails and file transfers combined into one subscription-based service that took the world by storm.

Napster was next, and it appeared in 1999. It was the first place where you could send a mp3 file to your friend. Napster created a revolution because they had 4 million songs in the first year of operation. It’s the first file-sharing service that worked on a peer-to-peer basis. Freenet and Gnutella followed in the 2000s.

Fast-forward to today, and there are Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, and WeTransfer. You can upload any digital file to any of these platforms and use the files from any device. The early file transfer protocols walked so that new cloud services could run.

The issues that came with file transfers

Two issues go along with file transfers: security and copyright infringement.

Security is critical because misconfigured FTPs and remote file synchronizations can expose such data as credit card info, intellectual property, medical records, and payroll. A security breach can cost 4.45 million dollars, besides undermining the reputation of a business.

Copyright issues are next on the list because they happen on peer-to-peer networks. The courts in the United States can rule against the creators of such networks if the software is marketed as a tool for promoting piracy or copyright infringement. There have been many lawsuits over the years, as ethical questions have been posed. Who is guilty, the user or the creator? Every country has an answer, which is why the stigma about transferring files hasn’t yet been lifted.

The top file transfer protocols

The origins of file transfer protocols go back to half a century ago. Security wasn’t an issue then, and it wasn’t even a concern. FTP is still around, but new and improved protocols have taken on the challenge of securing the files. We’ll discuss modern secure file transfer protocols and see which ones are

SSH File Transfer Protocol (SFTP)

STFP, meaning Secure or SSH File Transfer Protocol, is the most common way to transfer files today. The credits for its creation go to the Internet Engineering Task Force (what a name!), which built it using Secure Shell cryptography.

Unlike the unsecured FTP, SFTP encrypts and slices the data that needs to be transferred into packets. This improves transmission time and makes the process faster. Additionally, SFTP uses host-based authentication and key pairs, which make it the best option for personal data and other sensitive information.

File Transfer Protocol Over SSL (FTPS)

SSL certificates are a must in the modern world of website hosting. They also add significant value during file transfers. FTPS was a way to make FTP better through Secure Sockets Layer. Instead of SSL, modern protocols are using TLS (Transport Layer Security), but the name remains.

The TLS authenticates users through certificates in this protocol and prevents other parties from accessing data. FTPS needs two client ports to function, and there is an upgrade to the protocol called FTPES, which has more functionality.

Applicability Statement 2 (AS2)

The automotive and retail industries want to keep their communication and file transfers more secure than the rest of us. That’s why they widely use the AS2 protocol. It uses HTTPS and S/MIME to encrypt messages and send them. It also gives senders non-repudiation receipts through MDN (Message Disposition Notifications) and allows digital signatures.

ODETTE File Transfer Protocol 2 (OFTP2)

OFTP2 works similarly to AS2. Only it’s for automotive companies in Europe. This protocol is excellent for compressing big data files and transferring them. The first version of OFTP was created in 1986, and the second version improved it.

User Datagram Protocol (UDP)

UDP is the fastest protocol for sending audio and video files. It works similarly to TCP, and there are no receipts, certificates, or handshakes commonly used by other protocols. Instead, it focuses on speed, especially regarding long-distance network communication. The only downside to it is minor packet loss.

Masri serves as the Chief Content Editor at BestKodiTips. With three years of experience, she excels in creating technical content, focusing on how-to guides, Android and Kodi tutorials, app reviews, and addressing common technological challenges. She ensures to stay abreast of the latest tech updates. Outside of work, Masir finds pleasure in reading books, watching documentaries, and engaging in table tennis.

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