How to Upload Files Securely: Secure File Upload Best Practices

by | May 7, 2024

When it comes to uploading and receiving file uploads, it’s critical that data is protected from threats and unauthorized access. It’s especially important for remote video production teams that request large media files from external collaborators for review and approval across time zones, and without firsthand knowledge of their partners’ security postures.

Are you confident that your servers and networks are safe from data vulnerabilities? To learn how to strengthen your security when uploading files or large datasets, we break it down for you below.

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The Risks of Insecure File Uploads

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Source: BenQ

Hackers, malware, and breaches, oh my! It’s hard not to worry about security with the myriad ways your data can leak into unsecured environments, especially in light of huge data breaches of major self-hosted file transfer platforms or technology companies like LinkedIn, Twitter, Weibo, Adobe, and Canva.

For those in media and entertainment (M&E), hackers are no less of a concern. The sensitive and highly valuable nature of the industry’s intellectual property (IP), long chains of custody on many projects, reliance on remote workflows, and a high dependence on third-party vendors make M&E an especially attractive target for bad actors.

No matter which industry you’re in, however, you need to do everything in your power to protect your data.

That means avoiding file upload tools with insecure features such as unrestricted public access, a lack of access controls, and no control over uploaded file types, as they can lead to vulnerabilities. Insecure file upload methods such as email attachments or file transfer protocol (FTP) can open your system to malware or ransomware infection, or other harmful events, such as:

  • Attacks on infrastructure or that allow bad actors to gain control of user devices.
  • Overwriting files to launch server-side attacks (e.g. shutting down the website, or changing security settings).
  • Client-side attacks, such as phishing.
  • Malicious files that change regular application behavior.
  • System shutdown or takeover.

The benefits of secure file uploads

Thankfully, there are several ways to drastically reduce the chances of a successful cyberattack or data breach. Secure file upload solutions, such as cloud managed file transfer (MFT), help you protect you and your users’ data. There are plenty of benefits that come with using secure file upload solutions:

  • Data security: Protect your data from theft, unauthorized access, and corruption.
  • Data integrity: Ensure that your data is accurate, consistent, and valid.
  • Privacy and confidentiality: Control who can access your data (to prevent theft or misuse of sensitive files and data leaks).
  • Adhere to compliance standards: Complying with regulations helps you safeguard sensitive data and protect your business from financial penalties and legal issues.
  • Increase trust in your brand: Emphasizing data security instills confidence and loyalty in your customers.

💡 Read More: While it’s vital to have a strong security posture, it’s also important to balance security with convenience for your users. Otherwise, they could come up with insecure workarounds to increase their  productivity.

12 Secure File Upload Best Practices

Here are some best practices to ensure your file uploads are safe and secure.

1. Authenticate users

This is essential for protecting data privacy and preventing identity theft. You should implement, at minimum, two-factor authentication (2FA), which requires two types of authentication (for example, a login password and a code sent by text). For increased security, use multi-factor authentication (MFA), which typically requires at least three types of authentication.

2. Implement access and download controls

Restrict who can download specific files based on their role and permissions to prevent sensitive data from getting into the wrong hands. For example, you can make it so that only people in management can access uploaded files. Types of access control include mandatory access control (MAC), discretionary access control (DAC), role-based access control (RBAC), rule-based access control, and attribute-based access control (ABAC).

3. Conduct regular security audits

Conduct regular security audits on your system to identify and fix vulnerabilities in the file upload process. If you use third-party software for file transfer, ensure they do this as well. This includes documentation review to ensure compliance, access controls review, security controls evaluation, and more. These audits can be paired with third-party penetration testing.

4. Ensure compliance with data protection regulations

Verify that your systems, processes, and vendors are compliant with data privacy and data management regulations such as GDPR and SOC 2. Not only does this protect your organization from legal repercussions, but it also helps inspire trust in customers as big data leaks and breaches continue to make the news.

5. Provide ongoing employee training on secure file handling

Even if you have all the right technology and processes in place, if your users aren’t educated about secure file uploading practices, your systems can be vulnerable to attacks. Make sure everyone in your organization undergoes regular security awareness training about how to properly safeguard data, avoid downloading malware, and set up strong passwords.

6. Implement file type restrictions

Limit uploads only to necessary file types to minimize the chances of harmful content being uploaded to your servers. For example, attackers can try to inject malware into your system using executable files with extensions like .exe, .dll, .bat, or .sh. Restricting users from uploading those file types can help keep your uploads secure. Having a file upload portal that allows you to restrict file types with just a couple of clicks can be a big help.

7. Store files in secure cloud storage

Choose a cloud storage provider that meets your criteria for speed, simplicity, reliability, cost, and of course, security. It should have strong security features such as data encryption (in transit and at rest), user authentication tools, access controls, vulnerability scans, and activity logs/audit trails. Integrating your file transfer solution with cloud storage to automate content uploads or downloads can also improve security, since it reduces the chance of a manual error sneaking into the file transfer process.

8. Encrypt your files

Data encryption converts messages or files into unreadable code through algorithms that scramble the data. If your files somehow get into the wrong hands, the data will be hidden by a string of complex characters. Make sure to use strong encryption, such as AES-256 and TLS 1.2, on data in flight and at rest.

9. Scan files for malware

Before uploading files, scan them for trojans, viruses, or other malware using tools like antivirus software, command line interfaces (CLIs), or software development kits (SDKs). Make sure to regularly update the software to protect yourself from emerging threats. If you use a file transfer service, ensure it performs regular malware scanning on all file transfers.

10. Update and patch software

Performing these updates ensures that your software runs on its latest version, which helps optimize performance and fixes known security flaws. Consider that self-hosted file transfer solutions can make your system more vulnerable than the cloud in this regard, because you have to make these updates yourself (a process that’s often delayed or forgotten about when performed manually). Cloud users, on the other hand, can count on their providers to make updates quickly and automatically.

11. Record activity logs and audit trails

Keep track of who’s uploading and downloading files and accessing your software systems, as well as when these events take place. These records allow you to monitor your systems for suspicious activity and unauthorized access. If you use a file sharing service, ensure it includes a centralized admin console to track usage all in one place to stay organized and allow for auditing, if necessary.

12. Sanitize file names

Don’t put sensitive data or information into file names (e.g. addresses, account numbers, full names). Creating a file naming convention that everyone follows could help with this as well as staying organized. For uploaded files that don’t follow your naming conventions, you can rename them to prevent attackers from injecting malicious code or scripts into a file name. Remove potentially dangerous characters or patterns.

Any file sharing service you use should allow you to set file naming conventions in its file uploader, so collaborators have no choice but to follow your file name rules.

MASV: The Most Secure File Sharing Platform to Upload Files Securely

Ensuring the security of your file upload process can seem overwhelming at first, especially if you regularly share files externally. But it’s worth the investment to protect your and your users’ data, adhere to regulations, and stay informed about the latest security threats. Thankfully, there are tools available that can streamline your workflow and make it more secure all at once.

If you’re looking for a fast, simple, and secure file transfer solution that allows you to handle very large media files (up to 15 TBs per file) with point-and-click file transfers and no-code cloud integrations and automations, MASV Portals is the perfect solution.

Built with security in mind, MASV offers robust enterprise-grade security features that help ensure your data is protected from bad actors and data breaches. From encrypted file transfer and ISO 27001 certification to MFA and malware scanning, MASV keeps your valuable IP secure—whether it’s in transit around the world or saved in cloud storage.

In addition to being the most secure file transfer solution, MASV Portals also simplify the file upload process for a range of use cases, from gathering live broadcast footage or working with VFX houses to meet your post-production deadline. You can save hours on your workflow with shareable links or embed codes for requesting files, along with built-in, customizable file upload forms to set rules around file size and type, and to include waiver forms or your terms of service.

Sign up for MASV today and get 20GB free to test our security posture and game-changing file transfer features.

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