Transferring a file with utmost security is essential to today’s data-driven world. If the file goes to the wrong hand, a slight mistake may lead to a security breach. And it causes many consequences for the company. There are many methods for securing this process.

File Transfer using SFTP is beneficial as it is encrypted with protocols like SSH. And, that ensures tight security. This blog will provide a brief overview of the SFTP protocol and the important prerequisites to set up this connection. Read along to find out how you can set up your File Transfer securely using SFTP for your organization.

Steps to Set Up File Transfer using SFTP

Setting up File Transfer using SFTP is a straightforward process and generally, the connection can be established by following 2 methods namely by using the Username and Password method and by using SSH keys for password-less FTP login. This method of setting up File Transfer using SFTP uses the latter method and follows the steps as shown below:

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Step 1: Generating SSH Keys

The first step in setting up File Transfer using SFTP by using SSH keys is to generate these SSH keys. You can do this by following the below steps:

  • Open the Linux/Unix terminal in Mac or command prompt in Windows or any terminal in Linux machine as shown below.
Opening Linux Terminal
Image Source: Self
  • To set up an RSA token, execute the below command on the terminal.
ssh-keygen -t rsa
  • Once the above command is successful, a few questions will pop up. Ideally, just press enter for default as shown below.
Enter file in which to save the key (/home/tautvydas/.ssh/id_rsa):
Enter passphrase (empty for no passphrase):
Enter same passphrase again:
  • Keeping the passphrase blank will enable the user to log in to the remote server without any password. However, if you would like more security, set up some passphrases, and every time you log in to a remote server, you will be asked for a password. You will end up with something similar to the below figure.
File Transfer using SFTP: Generating RSA Keys
Image Source: Self
  • Please note that there will be two keys generated (Public and Private). One is id_rsa, and the other is id_rsa.pub. The private key is – id_rsa, and it should be in your local machine, whereas id_rsa.pub is the Public key, and it needs to be transferred to the remote server.

Step 2: Copying SSH Keys to a Remote Server

The next step in File Transfer using SFTP is to copy the keys generated onto a remote server. There are several authentication and authorization policies to be taken care of in this step as shown below:

  • Now that you have generated an RSA key pair place the public key to the remote server.
  • To copy the public file, execute the below command on the local machine:
- ssh-copy-id user@server_ip
  • Here the user is the username for the remote server, and the server_ip is the IP address for the remote server.
  • Once you provide the above information, you will see a warning message like:
The authenticity of host 'Server's IP address' can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is ...
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)?
  • Type “Yes” in the command line and hit enter to continue. You will then popped up with another message saying:
Warning: Permanently added 'SERVER IP' (RSA) to the list of known hosts.
user@serverip's password:
  • Type the password of the remote server user, and then click enter. You will be then greeted with another message saying:
Now try logging into the machine, with "ssh 'user@serverip'", and check in:
~/.ssh/authorized_keys*
to make sure we haven't added extra keys that you weren't expecting.
  • Now to login to the remote machine every time, use the below command:
ssh user@server_ip
  • As we have added the RSA token, it will not ask for a password unless you have set some passphrase at the time of RSA token generation.

Step 3: Initiating an SFTP Connection

The next step in File Transfer using SFTP is to initiate the SFTP connection. This too is a straightforward process and can be done by following the below steps:

  • Open the command terminal and execute the below command:
sftp user@server_ip
  • Here the user is of the remote server and server_ip is the IP address of the remote server.
  • After the successful connection, you will see the sftp prompt.

Step 4: Transferring Files from Remote Servers to Local Systems

The next step in File Transfer using SFTP is to transfer files from Remote Servers to Local Systems. You can do this by following the below steps:

  • To transfer files from remote server to local system using SFTP, use the following command:
Syntax - get /path/to/remote/server/file.txt
Example - get /etc/config.txt
  • Once you execute the above command in the sftp prompt, you will see the file is getting copied into the local machine.
  • To download multiple files from remote server, execute the below command:
Syntax - mget /path/to/remote/server/*.txt
Example - mget /etc/*.txt

Step 5: Transferring Files from Local Systems to Remote Servers

The next step in File Transfer using SFTP is to transfer files from Local Systems to Remote Servers.

  • Open the command terminal, and execute the below command to copy the file from local machine to remote server.
Syntax - get file.txt /path/to/remote/server/directory
Example - get file.txt /etc/config/
  • To move the file from local machine to a remote server, use the following command.
Syntax - put /path/to/local/file/abc.txt /path/to/remote/directory
Example - put /home/user/abc.txt /etc/config
  • To transfer multiple files from local to remote, use the following command.
mput /home/abc/*.txt /etc/config
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Optimal Strategies for SFTP Utilization

SFTP emerges as a prime option for enterprises seeking secure data transmission, offering enhanced reliability and compliance compared to traditional FTP methods. Adhering to specific guidelines can elevate the efficacy of SFTP usage, essentially constituting best practices:

  1. Standardize Naming Conventions and Directory Structures: Consistency in naming files and organizing them into coherent directory hierarchies significantly streamlines file management processes. Employing descriptive filenames and grouping related files aids in swift access and minimizes errors.
  2. Enhance File Transfer Efficiency: Boosting file transfer performance entails assessing variables like network bandwidth, file compression, and concurrent transfer thresholds. Fine-tuning these aspects maximizes transfer speeds, especially crucial for large files or frequent transfers.
  3. Implement Comprehensive Monitoring and Logging: Robust monitoring and logging mechanisms are indispensable for tracking SFTP activities and identifying anomalies or suspicious behavior. This proactive approach aids in detecting security breaches, unauthorized access attempts, or irregular transfer patterns, facilitating forensic analysis and ensuring compliance.
  4. Develop a Comprehensive Disaster Recovery Strategy: Regular backups of SFTP server data are imperative to mitigate the risk of data loss. A well-defined backup strategy enables swift restoration in the event of hardware failures or data corruption. Coupled with a robust disaster recovery plan, downtime is minimized in cases of server outages or catastrophic events.
  5. Seamlessly Integrate SFTP Across Various Workflows: SFTP integration into diverse workflows optimizes efficiency and automates file transfer processes, benefiting multiple scenarios:
    • Business File Transfers: Facilitates secure exchange of files with external partners, report distribution, and data synchronization between systems.
    • Automated Processes: Enables seamless and secure file transfers without manual intervention, enhancing productivity through scheduled or event-triggered actions.
    • Integration with Cloud Storage: Enables seamless file transfers between local systems and cloud environments, offering a secure mechanism for managing data across platforms.

Adhering to these practices ensures optimal utilization of SFTP, bolstering security, efficiency, and reliability in data transfer operations.

Before wrapping up, let’s compare SFTP over FTP.

Advantages of SFTP over FTP

  • Encryption: SFTP utilizes SSH encryption to safeguard data in transit. Even if intercepted, the stolen data would remain encrypted, requiring the hacker to decrypt it. This makes secure FTP ideal for applications that prioritize data security.
  • Simplified Use: Unlike FTP, which uses multiple channels for transfers, SFTP requires only a single connection to the server’s port (typically port 22). This simplifies the user experience and reduces the complexity of connections.
  • Tunneling: SSH supports tunneling, allowing data to be transmitted through an encrypted tunnel. With SFTP using SSH, all transmitted data, including authentication credentials is protected. Additionally, SSH tunneling enables users to utilize multiple applications within the encrypted tunnel, enhancing security. further.

Conclusion

This article gave a step-by-step guide on File Transfer using SFTP. It also gave a brief overview of SFTP and highlighted some important prerequisites companies must take care of before setting up this process. Overall, File Transfer using SFTP plays an important role in the transfer of data among multiple data sources and can be an asset to your organization.

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Share your experience of learning about File Transfer using SFTP in the comments section below.

Vishal Agrawal
Freelance Technical Content Writer, Hevo Data

Vishal has a passion towards the data realm and applies analytical thinking and a problem-solving approach to untangle the intricacies of data integration and analysis. He delivers in-depth researched content ideal for solving problems pertaining to modern data stack.

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