How to Use FTP on a Mac

By Staff Contributor on June 11, 2019

IT professionals looking to use FTP on a Mac must fully understand what FTP is, the risks involved, and the tools available to help them increase efficiencies and keep sensitive information secure.

To understand how to use FTP on a Mac, it’s important to fully grasp what FTP is and how it works. File transfer protocol (FTP) is a method for sending large files across the internet. Many companies rely on FTP sites and tools to operate efficiently on a day-to-day basis, whether to send a multi-slide, image-packed PowerPoint presentation or a high-quality company video. While there are some built-in options for file transfer on a Mac, I’ll also highlight why a robust software program is a better option for just about every business. My recommendation is to check out an option like SolarWinds® Serv-U®.

FTP relies on a client-server relationship in which there’s a separate command channel for controlling files that are uploaded, downloaded, copied, etc., and a data channel for the distribution of the content. These FTP sessions can function in both active and passive modes. With active mode, the client establishes the command channel and the server establishes the data channel. In passive mode, the server uses the command channel to provide the client with the information required to open a data channel, thus putting the client in control of both the command and data channel. Passive mode is often the go-to because it avoids bumping up against firewalls.

what is ftp mode

Is FTP Secure?

In an era when security threats abound, IT professionals must ensure their companies are upholding security best practices.

FTP used independently, without the support of third-party software, can pose a number of threats. Many FTP sites allow for anonymous transfers, in which users can access and send files without a username and password. Anonymous FTP is not secure and should only be used in situations where files are intended to be public.

But even FTP connections that require an ID and password are at risk. FTP passwords and IDs are transferred over the internet without encryption, potentially exposing them to password sniffing attacks hosted by cybercriminals. Mac FTP clients are also subject to man-in-the-middle attacks, in which attackers alter communications and documents transferred between two computers, often injecting them with malware the recipient then unknowingly downloads.

Another less likely but still possible FTP security risk is data that “strays” to a remote computer rather than its intended destination. This would allow a third party to view or even edit any transferred files, putting confidential information in jeopardy.

Improving FTP Security

ftp security options

To combat this, FTPS (FTP over SSL) was created. FTPS transfers data over an SSL-encrypted network. Any connection attempt that doesn’t use SSL encryption is not accepted by the server. FTPS also leverages digital certificates to authenticate information. Certificates signed by a known certificate authority (CA) or that include a copy of the recipient’s public key are considered secure.

Like FTPS, SFTP (secure file transfer protocol) enhances the security of traditional FTP methodology. Unlike FTPS, which relies on the same data and command channels as FTP, SFTP transfers both data and commands via a single, secure connection. SFTP also encrypts both the authentication information and the data being transferred with the Secure Shell (SSH) protocol, a form of public and private key encryption. This ensures nothing remains as clear text.

To take security one step further for FTP, FTPS, and SFTP, IT professionals may want to consider implementing third-party tools designed for both FTP for Mac and Windows or enhanced file transfer security available in a managed file transfer (MFT) server tool. This software helps take business security to the next level through a wide variety of secure protocols and encryption practices. It can also boost efficiency and streamline many of the clunky side effects associated with basic server FTP functions.

How Can I Use FTP on a Mac?

Using FTP from Mac is straightforward, but there are multiple avenues to consider. There’s a built-in Mac FTP server to make it easy for users to add their files into the FTP client Mac and grant others access to specified documents. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Choose “System Preferences” from the Apple icon
  2. Click “Sharing”
  3. Select the “File Sharing” box and click “Options”
  4. Click “Share Files and Folders Using FTP”

This simple process allows other computers to share and copy files from your machine. If you want to connect to an FTP server Mac to access another individual’s files without third-party software, you’ll need to:

  1. Navigate to the “Finder Menu”
  2. Select “Go”
  3. Click “Connect to Server”
  4. Enter the name and a password for the server you’re attempting to connect to.

This form of FTP Mac connection comes with a few limitations. It can only be used to download files, and if a username or password contains an “@” symbol, the server will fail to connect. In addition, dragging and dropping large files is typically prohibited and security is at a bare minimum.

Best FTP for Mac Software Options

A third-party software, like SolarWinds Serv-U FTP, is needed for IT teams looking to deliver quick, easy, and reliable file transfers from their organization. They’re especially critical for companies that must comply with industry regulations requiring encrypted data transfers, like PCI DSS and HIPPA. The best FTP for Mac software will provide:

  • Enhanced Efficiency: Third-party tools can handle large file transfers (>3GB) and enable users to upload or download multiple files at once, avoiding the lag often associated with individual uploads/downloads. Many even boast intuitive web browsers and mobile device interfaces, so you can view, upload, and download documents in very little time from virtually anywhere. Drag-and-drop features and the power to easily add file transfer users and groups further drive efficiency home with these third-party offerings.
  • Greater Security: A proper FTP for Mac leverages FTPS protocol for file transfers, encrypting files using SSL or TLS cryptographic protocol, to protect data from accidental exposure or tampering attackers. With these measures, you can rest assured as you send files over both IPv4 and IPv6 networks. This type of software will also ensure no data is stored in the DMZ to comply with PCI and other regulatory frameworks.
  • FTP Monitoring and Management: Take things a step further with third-party tools that allow you to monitor file transfer statistics, storage, permissions, access, and more from a real-time, intuitive management console and FTP server log. You can define the limits for the number of sessions on the server, block the IP address of a timed-out session, and enable settings to require reverse DNS names. This bird’s-eye view of activity helps you quickly address any errors or security threats that arise.
  • Automation: With tools that offer automation, you can move or delete files after transfer and delete or reset usernames and passwords after a predetermined number of days, all without lifting a finger.

Signing up with third-party software is a must. I recommend SolarWinds Serv-U. These FTP and MFT tools help simplify file transfers, implement critical security protocols, and ensure even your largest files get where they need to go.

Recommended Reading:

Best Remote Support Software: If you’re looking for remote support software specifically, rather than file transfer functionality, this is the list for you. These are the best software options for remote troubleshooting, which is a must for most IT professionals these days.

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