As one of the basic building blocks of information security, the CIA Triad is likewise a vital piece in establishing secure enterprise file transfers. In this post, we explain what the CIA Triad is and how you can apply it to your B2B data transfers.
The CIA Triad refers to three basic principles/objectives in information security, namely: confidentiality, integrity, and availability. It's been proven that, in order to establish a secure system, you need to achieve these three objectives. Let me explain each one first and why they are crucial to business file transfers.
In the context of information security, confidentiality refers to the principle of restricting access to or knowledge of certain pieces of information to certain individuals. There are several reasons for doing so. For example,
- a company might not want competitors to know its trade secrets, key personnel salaries, list of customers, products in development, or sales and marketing plans
- a law firm might want to preserve attorney-client privilege
- a healthcare organization may want to secure ePHI and comply with HIPAA / HITECH requirements
- trading partners might want to keep transaction details between themselves
- and so on.
Unfortunately, when two parties exchange information over a network, especially one as vulnerable as the Internet, the confidentiality of that information will always be at risk. If they want, attackers can steal secret information by either carrying out a man-in-the-middle attack to eavesdrop on a transmission or hack directly into a server. It is therefore imperative to establish countermeasures that can mitigate unauthorized access and disclosures. We'll talk about possible countermeasures later in this article.
The second member of the CIA triad, integrity (which means data integrity) pertains to the principle of preventing data from being tampered. Data integrity is particularly crucial in business transactions where unauthorized alterations to data (whether intentional or accidental) can lead to disputes, report misstatements, and (in the case of fraudulent alterations) financial losses.
Like confidentiality, integrity can likewise be compromised during data transfers through either man-in-the-middle attacks (where attackers can intercept the data, make changes, and then forward the altered data to the intended recipient) or through a direct hack on the server.
Ok. Let's say you're able to preserve the confidentiality and integrity of your data at all times. But what if there are times when you need it and the data becomes inaccessible? That can be a problem, right? In the case of file transfers, data access problems can be due to a variety of reasons. Power interruptions, network disruptions, server failures, missing files, DDoS attacks, and natural disasters are just some of the many unfortunate events that can render data inaccessible.
Availability issues can be a serious problem, especially if they involve business-critical data. More so if the data is part of a supply chain, where several organizations or business units can suffer.
Technical solutions for achieving confidentiality in enterprise file transfers
Let's now discuss some of the popular methods for securing file transfer confidentiality. Encryption is by far the one most closely associated with confidentiality, so let's start with that. Encryption basically renders data unreadable, thereby preserving that data's confidentiality. The data can become readable again only after it's decrypted.
Encryption solutions are usually grouped into two categories: those that encrypt data-at-rest and those that decrypt data-in-transit. File transfers require both. That's because, as mentioned earlier, threats to file transfer confidentiality exist both while the files are tranversing the network (data in transit) and while they're stored on the server (data at rest).
Data-in-transit encryption is usually achieved through solutions like SSL (e.g. FTPS, HTTPS, WebDAVs) or SSH (e.g. SFTP). On the other hand, data-at-rest encryption is usually achieved through OpenPGP or other disk-level or file-level encryption solutions. When you encrypt data before (while in the sender's server), during (while traversing the network), and after (upon arrival at the recipient's server) a file transfer, you call that end-to-end encryption.
Recommended read: SSL vs SSH - A Not-So-Technical Comparison
Another method you can use to secure data confidentiality is authentication. Good authentication can help you restrict access to your confidential data to authorized individuals. If you can implement 2-factor authentication, then that would be even better.
Integrity in enterprise file transfers
To achieve data integrity in your file transfers, you can use hash functions and digital signatures, security elements that are readily available in secure file transfer protocols like FTPS, HTTPS, SFTP, and WebDAVs. These solutions will enable file transfer recipients to determine if the files they receive have been tampered along the way.
Availability in enterprise file transfers
The best way to ensure (file transfer) service availability is to set up a high availability (HA) cluster. There are two ways to do this. The first one would entail setting up one or more failover server(s) that can immediately take over should the primary server go down. This is known as an active-passive high availability configuration.
Alternatively, you can set up two or more server (s) in such a way that they are both active servers. This is known as an active-active high availability configuration. The main purpose of an active-active HA configuration is to distribute the workload and reduce the chance of a server from going down due to overload.
If you're not familiar with these two configurations and want to know more about them, read the post: Active-Active vs Active-Passive High Availability Cluster.
Normally, in order to apply all three elements of the CIA Triad, you would need to employ disparate solutions and integrate them. The problem with this approach is that it can be quite complex and would therefore require considerable time and expertise before you can come up with a complete solution. A better option would be to find a single solution that already incorporates all three elements (and possibly more).
One example is JSCAPE MFT Server, a managed file transfer server that already includes:
- Data-in-motion encryption through secure file transfer protocols like FTPS, SFTP, HTTPS, WebDAVs, AS2 over HTTPS, and OFTP (secured by SSL)
- Data-at-rest encryption through OpenPGP
- End-to-end encryption, which can be achieved through automation-enabling features known as triggers.
- 2-factor authentication
- Data integrity checking mechanisms that employ hash functions and digital signatures.
- Built-in support for High Availability configurations, active-active and active-passive
- Data Loss Prevention (DLP), which automatically detects the presence of sensitive data and take appropriate action (e.g. cancel the download or apply encryption)
If you want to give it a test run, JSCAPE MFT Server comes with a FREE, fully-functional evaluation edition that you can download now.