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Security Aspects of Digital File Transfer

(March 2001) posted on Thu Jul 26, 2001

Coudray explores some of the security factors involved in moving files over the Internet.

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By Mark A. Coudray

Verifying that you are in the middle of a secure transaction is simple. Besides the appearance of https in the URL header, both Netscape and Internet Explorer display a closed padlock when you are in a secure mode. It is very important to note, that not all pages on a Website will be secure. This is why the padlock and header are displayed.


The largest and most recognizable vendor of these security methods is Verisign RSA, one of the inventors of the encryption technology used today. There are two levels of encryption available: 40 bit and 128 bit. The larger number represents longer security codes that are more difficult to break. This level of security is so great that Verisign claims it has never been broken and would take a trillion, trillion years of computer processing to break the sequence! That's good enough for me.


Even 40-bit is incredibly safe, and it can be used worldwide with no special licenses or permits. So now that you have a basic understanding of where file security has been, let's focus on the things that should be important to you.




<P>In any business transaction, you want to know who you are doing business with. When it comes to the digital world, this practice is called authentication. With Internet transactions, it happens on two different levels and is known as bidirectional authentication. On one side, the site owner wants to know that those who log into the site are who they say they are. The reasons for this are obvious: If a user is sending files for the site owner to reproduce, the site owner needs to know that the images really belong to the user.


On the flip side, the user wants to make sure that the site really belongs to the individual or company intended to receive the image. Until there were reliable methods of authentication, numerous cases of fraud occurred in which an unscrupulous con set up a fake or counterfeit Website that appeared to be the real deal. Just as with credit card, bank data, or other sensitive information you might transfer online, when you send sensitive graphics (like a new product design), you must be assured the recipient is who the image is intended for.





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