HTTPS vs. SFTP: What’s the Technical Difference?

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HTTPS vs SFTP

HTTPS Vs. SFTP: Let’s understand the key differences between these two secure protocols

During the data transmission process on the Internet, what matters the most is the application of secure file transfer methods, as they might involve the transmission of confidential and sensitive data. Nobody wants their data to be tampered with during the transfer process. This is where secure file transfer comes in! It is the process of transferring files over a network in a secure manner, typically using encryption to protect the data being transferred.

There are several versions of secure file transfer, including

  • FTP (File Transfer Protocol)
  • FTP Secure (FTPS)
  • Secure FTP (SFTP)
  • HTTPS ((Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure)

FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is the original file transfer protocol widely used to transfer files between computers. FTP uses separate control and data connections and can operate in either active or passive mode.

FTPS (FTP Secure) is a secure version of FTP that uses Transport Layer Security (TLS) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to encrypt the data being transferred. FTPS uses separate control and data connections and can operate in either active or passive mode.

HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) is a secure version of the HTTP protocol used to transfer data on the Internet. HTTPS uses SSL or TLS to encrypt the transferred data, making it secure against eavesdropping and tampering.

SFTP (SSH File Transfer Protocol) is a secure version of FTP that uses the Secure Shell (SSH) protocol to transfer files. SFTP uses a single connection for control and data transfer, making it more secure and efficient than FTP.

However, here we will talk about HTTPS vs. SFTP. Though they are two methods of secure file transfer, there are certain technicalities involved that separate them. But before we decode the difference, let us first understand both of them individually.

What Is HTTPS?

Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS) is a secure version of the HTTP protocol used to transfer data on the Internet. HTTPS protects the privacy and integrity of the data transferred between a web server and a client, such as a web browser.

When you visit a website using HTTPS, your web browser establishes a secure connection to the web server using a combination of the SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) or TLS (Transport Layer Security) protocol and a digital certificate. SSL and TLS are cryptographic protocols that provide secure communication over a computer network. The digital certificate, issued by a trusted certificate authority (CA), verifies the web server’s identity and ensures the connection is secure.

Once the secure connection is established, all data transferred between the web server and the client is encrypted, making it more difficult for anyone to intercept or tamper with the data. This is especially important for websites that handle sensitive information, such as online banking or shopping sites, where the security of the data being transferred is critical.

To identify a website using HTTPS, the URL of the website typically begins with ‘https://’ instead of ‘http://.’ Additionally, most web browsers display a padlock icon in the address bar to indicate that the connection is secure.

It’s important to use HTTPS whenever you are transferring sensitive or confidential data over the Internet to protect it from being intercepted or tampered with.

Benefits of HTTPS:

  • Encryption Layer enabled            
  • Data Protection
  • Ranking Boost with Google         
  • Protection against Phishing         
  • Leveraged to gain Customer Trust
  • Payments Card Industry Compliance

Understood HTTPS? Let us try understanding SFTP now.

What is SFTP?

Secure File Transfer Protocol (SFTP) is a secure version of the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) used to transfer files over a network. SFTP is based on the Secure Shell (SSH) protocol, which provides a secure way to transfer data between two computers.

SFTP uses a single connection for both control and data transfer, making it more efficient and secure than FTP, which uses separate connections for control and data transfer. In addition, it uses encryption to secure the transferred data, making it more difficult for anyone to intercept or tamper with it.

To use SFTP, you need an SFTP client program, such as FileZilla or WinSCP, and access to an SFTP server. The SFTP client establishes a secure connection to the SFTP server using a combination of the SSH protocol and authentication methods, such as password authentication or public key authentication. Once the connection is established, you can use the SFTP client to transfer files between your computer and the SFTP server or between two SFTP servers.

Benefits of SFTP:

  • Accessibility
  • Data Security
  • Convenient File Management
  • Scalability
  • Disaster Recovery and Compliance

Now that we have a fair idea about HTTPS and SFTP let us compare them and understand their technical differences.

What is the Difference Between HTTPS and SFTP?

Both HTTPS and SFTP are secure protocols that are used to transmit sensitive data over the Internet. However, there are a few differences between them. Let us discuss those differences based on different parameters.

HTTPS vs. SFTP Security

These are some of the key differences between the two protocols in terms of security:

Encryption Methods: HTTPS uses a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) to encrypt the transmitted data. SFTP uses a combination of public and symmetric encryption to secure the transmitted data.

Key exchange: In HTTPS, the client and the server use a shared key to encrypt and decrypt the transmitted data. But in SFTP, the server and client exchange keys with the help of public key encryption. This means the client’s public key is used for encrypting the data, and the server’s private key is used for decrypting it.

Certificate validation: HTTPS uses digital certificates to verify the server’s identity. So the client checks the certificate to ensure it is legit and issued by a repeated Certificate Authority. Contrary to HTTPS, SFTP does not use certificates for authentication. It, however, depends on the server’s host key, a unique identifier stored on the client’s machine.

Overall, both HTTPS and SFTP are security protocols that can be used to transmit sensitive data over the Internet. However, SFTP is generally considered more secure due to the use of public and symmetric key encryption and unique host keys for authentication.

HTTPS vs. SFTP Ease of Use

When it comes to the convenience of application, these are some key differences between HTTPS and SFTP:

Protocol: HTTPS is a protocol for transmitting data over the Internet, whereas SFTP is a protocol used for transferring files over a secure SSH connection. This means HTTPS is usually used for transmitting data via a web browser, while SFTP transfers files.

Accessibility: HTTPS is widely supported by web browsers and servers, so it is relatively easy to use. SFTP requires using a separate client program, such as an SFTP client or a terminal with an SFTP command-line utility. This makes it more difficult to use for users who are not familiar with command-line tools.

Configuration: HTTPS typically requires minimal configuration. Web servers are usually configured to support HTTPS by default, and web browsers will automatically use HTTPS if available. On the other hand, SFTP requires installing and configuring an SFTP client or server. This can be more time-consuming and may require some technical knowledge.. Overall, HTTPS is generally easier to use than SFTP, as it is widely supported and requires minimal configuration. However, SFTP is a powerful tool for transferring files securely, and with the right client software, it can be relatively easy to use.

SFTP vs. HTTPS File Transfer Speed

The speed of file transfer using SFTP and HTTPS depends on various factors like the size of the file being transferred, the performance of the server and client machines, and the bandwidth of the Internet connection.

Typically, SFTP is faster when compared to HTTPS for transferring larger files as it is typically designed for transferring files and can make more efficient use of bandwidth. However, HTTPS can also be fast, especially using a modern version of TLS with efficient cipher suites. In addition, factors like network congestion and the distance between the client and server can also affect the speed of file transfer using HTTPS or SFTP.

Overall, the speed of file transfer using SFTP and HTTPS will vary based on various factors. For example, though SFTP may be faster for transferring files, HTTPS can also be fast, given the modern encryption methods. These are a few parameters based on which HTTPS vs. SFTP can be compared. For a better understanding, we have made a table for you.

ParametersHTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure)SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol)
Encryption MethodsHTTPS uses a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) to encrypt the transmitted data.SFTP uses a combination of public and symmetric encryption to secure the transmitted data.
Key ExchangeThe client and the server use a shared key to encrypt and decrypt the transmitted data.The server and client exchange keys with the help of public key encryption.
Certificate ValidationHTTPS uses digital certificates to verify the server’s identitySFTP depends on the server’s host key, a unique identifier stored on the client’s machine.
ProtocolHTTPS is a protocol for transmitting data over the Internet.SFTP is a protocol used for transferring files over a secure SSH connection.
AccessibilityHTTPS is widely supported by web browsers and servers, so it is relatively easy to use.SFTP requires using a separate client program, such as an SFTP client or a terminal with an SFTP command-line utility, so it can be a bit tough to use.
ConfigurationWeb servers are usually configured to support HTTPS by default, and web browsers will automatically use HTTPS if available.SFTP requires installing and configuring an SFTP client or server. This can be more time-consuming and may require some technical knowledge.

Achieve the Best End-to-End File Transfer Security!

Using secure file transfer protocols like HTTPS and SFTP is an important step to protect the confidentiality of data being transferred, but it is not sufficient on its own to ensure the security of the data. You have to implement encryption, multi-factor authentication, and other measures.

Janki Mehta

Janki Mehta is a Cyber-Security Enthusiast who constantly updates herself with new advancements in the Web/Cyber Security niche. Along with theoretical knowledge, she also implements her practical expertise in day-to-day tasks and helps others to protect themselves from threats.

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