FTP Security Threats: How to Mitigate and Prevent FTP Attacks

FTP Security Threats: How to Mitigate and Prevent FTP Attacks. Today’s discussion is the threats that happen to FTP security and effective ways to mitigate and prevent. Firstly, a File Transfer Protocol, is no doubt a popular protocol being used to transfer files over the network. However, it’s use cases come with some data security risks. Follow this article to focus on the most common threats and ways to protect from them.

One of the issues of FTP that comes to mind is the lack of data encryption. It means information sent over the network is susceptible to being intercepted and read by unwanted people. We would discuss various ways to secure the data being transferred, including the use of protocols such as FTPS (FTP over SSL) or SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol) for that matter later on. 

Read on for a more detailed discussion of FTP Security Threats: How to Mitigate and Prevent FTP Attacks. Find out how to successfully safeguard your data and ensure safe file transmission over the network.

Why is an FTP Risk?

Remember that FTP does not encrypt its data.  That invites an attacker to collect login and file data to track the connection. Any file transfer inherently creates the risk of transferring a file with malicious content. If you use FTP server without proper care you may allow an attacker access to execute code or replace vital files.

Moreover by its very nature, FTP is vulnerable to DoS and DDoS attacks. A Denial of Service (DoS) attack occurs when an attacker attempts to overload a victim’s server by flooding it with requests. In a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, the attacker uses many unsuspecting third-party servers to attack the victim at the same time.

What do FTP Servers do?

In general, FTP servers and SFTP software perform two tests, namely: ‘Put’ and ‘Get’. So you either put files on the FTP server’s domain or get files from the FTP server. Then, if security is not an issue, FTP server software is an easy and inexpensive way to achieve this.

In a situation where you have remote workers who are transferring non confidential information. Or if you want to enable your customers to download white papers and documentation, then an FTP server works well for this purpose. Also, when you are sending data between business partners and this requires FTP or SFTP, you can quickly set up a server that accepts their data transfer. It is also common for people to use FTP servers for off-site backups, so that they have access to their data should something physically happen to the files in question.

Backup applications often have the ability to save data to an FTP or SFTP server.

Security Challenges of FTP

Primarily, FTP is definitely not the most secure. The domain was not meant to be included typically under security. Therefore, consider it an unsafe protocol to some extend, all because it relies on usernames and passwords in plain text for authentication and does not use encryption. Mainly, data sent via FTP is vulnerable to the common cyber attacks and these include brute force, spoofing, sniffing.

In addition as of today, there are a few approaches to solve these problems and protect FTP use. One interesting one is the extension of FTP as FTPS. This one has the ability to encrypt connections at the client’s request. What’s more the Transport Layer Security (TLS), SSH File Transfer Protocol (called Secure File Transfer Protocol or SFTP) are often used as more secure alternatives to our FTP. The reason being, they use encrypted connections.

FTP Threats

FTPs were not originally designed for security and have many weaknesses, such as:

Packet Capture/Sniffing

Firstly, FTP is considered simple, meaning that all transmissions, logins as well as data and passwords are readable by literally everyone on the network.

Port Stealing

Unfortunately, it is very easy for an Internet crook ( hacker ) to guess the next open port or use a given PORT command, in order to get access as an intermediary.

Brute Force Attack

Brute force attack is the third typical problem- an FTP vulnerability to hackers who continuously check frequently used and repeated passwords until they find the right one.

Anonymous Security Vulnerability

A fourth security threat is that access to so-called legacy/anonymous FTP servers, is often operated often without a username or password.

How to Mitigate FTP Attacks?

To mitigate an FTP attack, there are some very key steps you take to provide adequate FTP server security. Take a look at these most important and common mitigation measures:

  • Use correct configurations – So you block hackers in anonymous mode, using the safest configurations for this protocol.
  • Frequent monitoring and thorough log analysis – It is important to regulate and monitor the FTP server to detect suspicious or unusual activity. Careful analysis of logs help to track down potential attacks, unauthorized access attempts or other security incidents. 
  • Install SSL Certificate – With this installation, SSL helps to ensure security over your personal data and security.
  • Network segmentation – it is important to isolate the FTP server from other internal network resources by placing it in a typically separate network segment. Alternatively use a dedicated virtual private network (VPN). It stops various potential breaches and limits the lateral movement of the attacker.

Methods and techniques to mitigate FTP security vulnerabilities

Well, FTP has several security vulnerabilities that may get exploited by malicious actors. Here are some proven methods and techniques for mitigating FTP security vulnerabilities:

Perform Regular Software Updates

Systematic updating of FTP software, including the operating system prevents known security vulnerabilities from being exploited.

Use Firewalls

Also, implementing a firewall to control incoming and outgoing traffic can help protect against unauthorized access. Moreover by using these mitigation techniques, you reduce the risk of FTP security holes and improve the security of your transferred files.

Monitor Network Traffic

Monitoring network traffic for unusual activity, such as high traffic or unexpected connections helps to identify a potential attack and take action.

Use Secure Protocols

Switching from FTP to secure file transfer protocols such as SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol) or FTPS (FTP over SSL) or FTP over TLS helps to prevent interception and corruption of data being transferred. These protocols encrypt all data transmissions and provide a secure communication channel.

Implement Proper Access Control and Authentication

Ensure that access control is implemented on FTP servers so that users only have access to the information they need. Strong authentication, such as using unique usernames and passwords or public key authentication helps to prevent unauthorized access.

Thank you for reading FTP Security Threats: How to Mitigate and Prevent FTP Attacks.

FTP Security Threats: How to Mitigate and Prevent FTP Attacks Conclusion

This article discussed FTP security risks and provided methods to mitigate and prevent attacks. While FTP is a popular file transfer protocol, it is unfortunately vulnerable to various attacks. Implementing the right security measures greatly increases the protection of your FTP server.

Additionally, security threats are constantly evolving, so it’s important to stay up to date with the latest information and practices related to FTP server security. Security should be a priority, especially for systems that handle sensitive customer or company data. Adopting a comprehensive approach to FTP security helps minimize the risk of attack and maintain data integrity.

Avatar for Kamil Wisniowski
Kamil Wisniowski

I love technology. I have been working with Cloud and Security technology for 5 years. I love writing about new IT tools.

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