Is SFTP Better than FTPS for Secure File Transfers?


Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP), also known as SSH File Transfer Protocol, and File Transfer Protocol Secure (FTPS) are secure file transfer protocols, but they have some differences that can make SFTP a preferred choice in many scenarios.

SFTP is often considered better than FTPS for business-critical file transfers for the following reasons:

Security Model

SFTP operates over secure shell (SSH), which provides a secure channel for data transfer and authentication. All data, including the authentication details and the transferred files, are encrypted during transmission.

FTPS, on the other hand, uses Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Layer Security (SSL/TLS) for security. While this also encrypts the data, the security model is a bit more complex and involves separate control and data connections, potentially leading to more configuration challenges and firewall issues.

Firewall and NAT Friendliness

SFTP usually only requires a single port (typically port 22) to be open for both command and data transmission, making it more firewall and network address translation (NAT) friendly. It simplifies the network configuration and reduces the chances of running into connectivity issues.

FTPS, due to its separate control and data connections, often requires additional port openings, which can be cumbersome in some network environments and might raise security concerns due to multiple open ports.

Authentication Methods

SFTP uses SSH keys for authentication, which provide a stronger authentication mechanism and are less vulnerable to brute-force attacks. SSH keys used by SFTP are generally more secure than traditional username/password combinations used in FTPS.

FTPS uses username/password combinations for authentication. User certificates can also be used as an added layer of security.

Client Compatibility

SFTP is supported by most modern SSH clients and servers by default. Since SSH is a common and widely-used protocol, it is likely that the necessary software is already present on many systems.

FTPS requires an SSL/TLS layer, which may not be as readily available or easy to configure on some systems, leading to potential compatibility issues.

Data Integrity Checking

SFTP has built-in data integrity checks using cryptographic hash functions during the file transfer, ensuring that the data remains unchanged and untampered during the transfer.

FTPS does not provide the same level of built-in data integrity checking during the transfer.

Deciding between SFTP and FTPS for File Transfers

While SFTP is often considered the more secure and efficient choice, the decision between SFTP and FTPS may also depend on specific use cases, organization policies and the existing infrastructure. In any case, both protocols are an improvement over regular (i.e., unencrypted) File Transfer Protocol (FTP), and when security is a concern, they are the recommended options for file transfer.

Thru’s managed file transfer (MFT) solution is protocol-agnostic, meaning it can exchange a variety of files, internally or externally, regardless of protocol, file type or file size. Since Thru can act as a client or server, you can use our MFT solution to connect to SFTP or FTPS clients or servers. To learn more about our MFT and using encrypted protocols for secure file transfers, please go to our Protocols page »


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