Data Encryption Not Enough to Prevent FTP Credential Theft


Analyst(s): |

  Free preview of Gartner research


The reported theft of 88,000 FTP credentials reaffirms that using SSL technologies or encrypting the payload is not enough to secure managed file transfer solutions and avoid regulatory and compliance audits.

News Analysis


On 26 June 2009, security researchers at the security tool vendor Prevx announced they had uncovered a cache of stolen FTP credentials belonging to a variety of corporations, including Symantec, McAfee, Bank of America, Amazon and Cisco Systems. Prevx claims that a trojan stole approximately 88,000 unencrypted FTP logins. The company has set up a page where users can check whether their logins have been compromised, at .


 Companies are becoming increasingly aware of the risks posed by transmitting data over nonsecure or unmanaged FTP solutions. The FTP credential theft reaffirms that simply using SSL technologies or encrypting the payload is not enough to ensure secure FTP. Malware such as the Zeus trojan is capable of stealing and exporting SSL credentials and exploiting FTP servers as distribution points for malware. Compromised Web sites already serve as a prime channel for distributing malware to unsuspecting Web site visitors. The FTP focus of this attack indicates that Internet-facing FTP servers may be the next target.

In this particular case, it is not clear that the credentials were actually used; nevertheless, the fact that attackers were able to access an FTP site poses sufficient risk. Gaining access to the FTP server enables attackers to host malware on a legitimate, trusted resource. Crafty social engineering of file names (for example, naming the malware “Executive salary.exe”) would be enough to ensure that users downloaded malware into their systems and continued its propagation. Legitimate FTP servers could also become unwitting vehicles for the trafficking of illicit and pirated media, applications and data. Data protection is essential, the server and users' credentials must also be safeguarded. The attraction of a simple, easy-to-use FTP site should not outweigh security considerations, particularly when a plethora of security technologies is available, ranging from low-cost and downloadable to global-class solutions, such as Axway’s Synchrony, Group Logic’s Mass Transit and Ipswich’s Moveit.


Enterprises: If you have deployed an FTP site that handles high-value data or application areas without proper mechanisms for managed and secure file transfer, data at rest, and file server and client administration, immediately consider deploying a managed file transfer solution with appropriate data loss protection capabilities. Data encryption is mandatory, but is not the end of your responsibilities with regard to file transfer. Consider placing FTP servers behind secure Web gateways to monitor FTP traffic for the upload and download of malicious applications.

Recommended Reading

(You may need to sign in or be a Gartner client to access the documents referenced in this First Take.)

© 2009 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction and distribution of this publication in any form without prior written permission is forbidden. The information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information. Although Gartners research may discuss legal issues related to the information technology business, Gartner does not provide legal advice or services and its research should not be construed or used as such. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof. The opinions expressed herein are subject to change without notice.

Not a Gartner Client?

Want more research like this?
Learn the benefits of becoming a Gartner client.

Contact us online





Why Gartner

Gartner delivers the technology-related insight you need to make the right decisions, every day.

Find out more