File and Data Sharing

What's the safest way to do a large file transfer?

by Egress
Published on 21st Mar 2022

When it comes to transferring files, the definition of "large" continues to evolve as internet bandwidth speeds continue to accelerate. The same amount, if not more, security risks exist, as large files are still typically sent using methods other than email. For this reason, varying tools and methods exist for transferring large files types—each with different security strengths and shortcomings.

This article explores various ways to do large file transfers and highlights the safest methods and their respective pros and cons.

Why businesses need to share large files

Document exchange is the typical use case for today's businesses when sharing large files. Email is still the ideal transfer mode that balances ease of use with security. However, when it comes to sharing large multimedia files (e.g., video files, digital art assets, sound files, and recordings) and database files, firms require a more flexible and secure alternative. Application-specific file types can also be sizable—for example, machine learning models these days are over one gigabyte on the low end.

What can go wrong?

The intended recipient's inability to receive or download the file in question should be the least of the sender's worries. If the file in question holds sensitive/private data such as credit card information, medical health records, and other personally identifiable information (PII), the loss, exposure, or compromise of that data could result in severe fines and penalties—not to mention potential negative press and brand damage.

Furthermore, compromised files could be weaponized with malware to inflict further damage (e.g., via ransomware or a trojan horse) downstream to supply chain partners. Without the proper measures to ensure that large file transfers are being shared securely and safely, any number of cyber threats could compromise the security postures of both the file sender and receiver.

Different ways of sharing large files: pros and cons

Many methods exist for sharing large files. The following are the most common ways followed by their respective pros and cons.

Using a cloud storage provider

As of late, a popular method for sharing large files is using a cloud storage provider like Google or Dropbox. That typically involves the sender uploading the file(s) to their allocated space on the cloud provider's platform. From this personal file repository in the cloud, colleagues can share the file or entire folder with the recipient.

Though this method is relatively streamlined and optimized for email-centric workflows (e.g., recipients are notified and shared a link via email), managing permissions can be complicated. Colleagues often accidentally share documents and files with the wrong parties, especially if emails are similar and the auto-populating of recipients is turned on.

Transferring and sharing files with a USB drive

Transferring large files using this method involves copying them onto a USB drive and delivering the physical device to the intended recipient. Because flash drives come in capacities that run in terabytes these days, they can be a quick and easy spot method for getting large files over to a customer or partner reliably and quickly.

Of course, when it comes to the latter, speed—unlike file transfer methods that require connectivity—is contingent on the geographic distance. If the intended recipient is across the hallway, completing the file transfer is just a matter of walking a few steps. In contrast, the file is undeliverable if the receiver's location is unreachable by physical mail. USB drives are a common vector for malware and are susceptible to physical damage, loss, or theft.

Sharing via a VPN connection

Virtual private networks (VPNs) enable people to send and receive files over public and untrusted networks, like free wifi hotspots and public internet connections. By using this method, intended recipients are effectively granted secure access to the company's network and can download shared files as if they were local to their devices. Unfortunately, VPN access requires significant setup and configuration on the recipient's device and isn't considered feasible for sharing on the fly.

FTP/SFTP File transfer and sharing

The file transfer protocol (FTP) and associated client tools were long considered the simplest and most secure way to share large files. However, these days FTP has been more or less supplanted by secure file transfer (SFTP), a version of the protocol that runs over the secure shell (SSH) protocol for encrypted communications.

Like VPN, SFTP requires significant effort on the part of the receiver, as they must install the proper SFTP client tools to retrieve the files in question. This method requires a certain degree of technical prowess.

Sharing files and collaborating securely

An effective solution for transferring large files should provide people with a secure, streamlined workflow and a simplified experience to accommodate today's file-sharing needs.

Egress Secure Workspace offers an encrypted environment with enterprise-grade access permissions readily accessible with one click. People can easily control how teammates or partners access large files, as well as integrate Egress Secure Web Forms to secure the end-to-end ingestion, storage, management, and control of data flows.

Book a demo today to learn how Egress can help your organization share large files and collaborate more securely.