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Security Aspects of Digital File Transfer

(March 2001) posted on Thu Jul 26, 2001

Coudray explores some of the security factors involved in moving files over the Internet.

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By Mark A. Coudray

In last month's column, I talked about repurposing and managing digital assets. If you are going to move client art, corporate identities, brands, and other sensitive business graphics electronically, it stands to reason that these transactions be secure. This month, I would like to introduce the primary issues involved in moving digital files over the Internet in a safe, secure, and protected manner.


The history of file transmission


Even before the Internet, it was possible to send and receive digital files between computers. This was done through dial-up modems and bulletin-board software. It was not a very secure method because it relied on user-entered passwords as the sole barrier to unauthorized intervention.


With the Internet came e-mail and the ability to attach graphic files to electronic messages. E-mailing soon became a popular way to get graphic files where they needed to be. If a file was below 1 MB, it was generally not too much of a problem to send it via e-mail. But with anything larger, all bets were off. Add to this the various data formats used by Macs and PCs, and it quickly became apparent that e-mail attachments were not the best way to transfer large graphic files.


Websites for file transfer


With the commercialization of the Internet, one of the primary tools of the research and educational community began to surface as a new way to transfer files--the file-transfer protocol (ftp) site. This system allows users to log in and serves as a direct channel between a client and a Website. Files can be uploaded as well as downloaded. Initially, interfacing with an ftp site required you to enter complex programming codes, daunting for all but the most seasoned operator. However, the text-code interface gave way to the familiar graphic interface we recognize as the browser.


Anyone can log onto an ftp site and move files. Many sites are even known as anonymous ftp sites simply because anyone can use them. Often the only password you need to enter the site is your e-mail address. Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) do not permit the use of ftp sites because, left unmanaged, these sites can be the source of all sorts of mischief. Still, the ftp site became the most common way for printers to send or accept files from clients electronically.



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