Mitigating Top Cybersecurity Misconfigurations in Managed File Transfer Software

Don Miller

The NSA and CISA recently released Alert Code AA23-278A (the “Alert”), highlighting the top ten cybersecurity misconfigurations that leave organizations vulnerable to data breaches and cyberattacks. The Alert identifies and explains why proper configuration of cybersecurity solutions and practices is essential for protecting critical information. Many of these misconfigurations are applicable to managed file transfer (“MFT”) solutions, too. This article delves into how an MFT solution can help to counteract specific cybersecurity misconfigurations detailed in the Alert.

Default Configurations of Software and Applications 

Default MFT configurations can leave organizations vulnerable to a variety of security threats, especially when these configurations include default credentials or service permissions. Our MFT software addresses this issue in several ways:

  • No Default Credentials: Quality MFT solutions typically do not ship with default credentials. Instead, during the setup process, administrators are prompted to create unique credentials, ensuring that there's no generic username/password combination that malicious actors can exploit.
  • Initial Configuration Wizard:  MFT solutions guide administrators through the initial setup and configuration step-by-step and highlight weak security configurations chosen by the administrators.
  • Regular Credential Updates: MFT solutions can be configured to force administrators to periodically change credentials, reducing the risk of password exploitation.
  • Hardening Guides and Post-Deployment Reviews: Quality MFT providers often supply hardening guides, which are documents outlining best practices for securing the software once deployed.  In addition, our expert teams assist with regular post-deployment security reviews and can also identify and rectify potential vulnerabilities.

Default configurations can significantly endanger organizational security.  While they may offer ease of deployment and initial use, they present low-hanging fruit for malicious actors.  By adopting MFT software best practices, organizations can ensure the safe transfer of files without compromising on security.

Improper Separation of User/Administrator Privilege

One of the pivotal aspects of robust cybersecurity is ensuring that users are granted only the privileges they require to perform their roles. Overprivileged users, especially those with administrative access, can inadvertently or maliciously cause significant damage or expose critical data.

A managed file transfer, or MFT, solution emphasizes role-based access control (RBAC).  This means that users are assigned roles based on their job functions, and each role has a specific set of permissions associated with it.  Here’s how this helps to mitigate risk:

  • Granular and Customizable Permissions: MFT software allows fine-tuning of permissions and roles. Users can be granted access or transfer rights based on their specific roles, ensuring they only have access to what they need. This granularity helps in avoiding overly permissive default settings.
  • Integration with Authentication Systems: MFT software can integrate with existing enterprise authentication systems, like LDAP, AD, or other Identity Access Management (“IAM”) software, making it harder for unauthorized users to gain access using default or easily guessable credentials.
  • Auditing and Tracking: With MFT solutions, all user activities, including administrative actions, are logged. This means that any change in user permissions, file transfers, or administrative settings can be traced back to a specific individual, thereby promoting accountability.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (“MFA”) for Administrative Access:  By implementing MFA, even if a malicious actor obtains a user's credentials or authentication ticket, they will still need a second form of verification to access the system. This significantly complicates their attempt to bypass system controls.
  • Temporary Elevated Privileges: In situations where a user requires elevated privileges temporarily, MFT solutions can grant time-limited access that automatically reverts back after a set duration.
  • Regular Review of User Privileges: With the comprehensive reporting capabilities of MFT tools, IT teams can periodically review user roles and permissions, ensuring that no user has unnecessary or outdated access. MFT integration with role recertification tools is essential to ensure that this process is automated.

Improper separation of user and administrator privilege can lead to a multitude of cybersecurity risks. However, with Managed File Transfer software's emphasis on role-based access control, organizations can confidently ensure that each individual has just the right level of access, reducing the threat landscape and enhancing overall cybersecurity.

Insufficient Internal Activity Monitoring

Our MFT software provides robust logging and monitoring features, enabling IT teams to track file transfers and administrative access, ensuring anomalies are detected and addressed promptly.  Thus, a managed file transfer solution can be instrumental in addressing the issues of insufficient internal network monitoring, in the following ways:

  • Enhanced Monitoring Capabilities: Our MFT software provides extensive logging and auditing capabilities. Any file transfer event, whether it be upload, download, or deletion is logged meticulously. It separates logging and alerting logins and changes. This not only helps in identifying adverse activities with file transfer, but also with configuration changes on the system.
  • Real-Time Alerts: The MFT system can be configured to send real-time alerts in case of any suspicious activity, such as a sudden spike in file transfers or unauthorized access attempts. This helps the cybersecurity team in being proactive rather than reactive.
  • Integration with Other Monitoring Solutions: Our solutions can easily integrate with SIEM (Security Information and Event Management) solutions, amplifying the network's monitoring capacity. With such integrations, organizations can correlate data from our MFT system with other data sources, thereby enhancing the detection of anomalous activities.
  • Comprehensive Reporting: Our MFT provides detailed reports that can assist in identifying patterns, potential security gaps, or anomalies. These reports can be invaluable during security assessments and audits.

Lack of Network Segmentation

Although this topic referenced in the Alert is not directly related to managed file transfer functionalities, a comprehensive MFT solution must still guarantee compliance with the following controls:

  • Provide Multi-Tiered Coverage: MFT software needs to offer solutions for the DMZ, trusted network, and secured databases.
  • Admin Portal Accessibility: Ensure that only MFT service interfaces, and not the administrative portal, are accessible via the Internet.
  • Protect Database Against SQL Injection Attacks: Utilize object-relational mapping where possible to prevent SQL injection attacks.
  • Credential Encryption: MFT solutions store credentials in encrypted forms. Even if a malicious actor gains access, the credentials cannot be easily deciphered.
  • IP Filtering: MFT solution enforces IP filtering for all access.
  • Payload Encryption for Data At-Rest: Our MFT solution ensures encryption of data when it’s not actively being transferred. This means that even if an attacker manages to access the system, the retrieved data from the MFT environment will remain encrypted, significantly limiting its exploitation.

 Lack of Regular Patching

Neglecting software updates and patches can expose systems to cyber threats. Our dedicated security and engineering teams take the following measures to proactively monitor emerging security challenges, swiftly rolling out patches and updates to address any identified vulnerabilities in the software components:

  • Patch Management: We regularly issue patches to our customers and collaborate with them to guarantee these updates are promptly implemented in their systems. This ongoing partnership ensures continuous protection against emerging threats.
  • Integration with Vulnerability Scanners: To enhance defense mechanisms, our MFT solution is compatible with leading vulnerability scanners. This integration facilitates real-time alerts on potential exploit attempts, reinforcing our system’s security layers.
  • Routine Code Scans: It is crucial for all MFT solutions to periodically undergo codes cans. This ensures that all utilized third-party and open-source libraries are free from known vulnerabilities, maintaining the integrity and security of the software.

Poor patch management is a recurring pain point for many organizations, often leading to easily preventable security breaches. Our MFT software is explicitly designed for ease of updating and patching.

Bypass of System Access Controls

Bypassing system access controls is a tactic used by malicious actors to gain unauthorized access to network resources and data. Techniques such as pass-the-hash (PtH) and Kerberoasting allow attackers to use compromised credentials to impersonate legitimate users, thereby moving laterally within an organization's network undetected.  Our managed file transfer solution addresses this issue several ways:

  • Secure Authentication Protocols: MFT software should use the latest authentication protocols and cryptography.
  • Session Management: MFT solutions maintain strict session management controls. If an unusual or suspicious session is detected, the system can terminate it or flag it for immediate review.
  • Integration with Advanced Threat Detection Systems: Modern MFT software often integrates with other cybersecurity tools that detect advanced threats. This means if there's an attempt to use techniques like Kerberoasting, the integrated threat detection system can alert the security team.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): By implementing MFA, even if malicious actors obtain a user's credentials or authentication ticket, they will still need a second form of verification to access the system. This significantly complicates any attempt to bypass system controls.
  • Regular Audits and Monitoring: Continuous monitoring of file transfers and user access patterns can help in identifying unusual behavior. For example, if a user who typically accesses a specific set of files suddenly tries to access a broader range or different kind of data, the system can trigger an alert.
  • Employee Training: Many breaches occur due to human error or lack of knowledge. bTrade offers training resources that ensure your employees are aware of ways our MFT solution can aid in preventing cyber attacks.
  • Encryption: Data encryption, both at-rest and in-transit, ensures that even if a malicious actor manages to access data, they cannot read or use it without the decryption key.

Bypassing system access controls is a sophisticated tactic used by cyber adversaries. However, with the comprehensive security measures of managed file transfer software, organizations can substantially reduce the risk of such attacks. By understanding the threats and employing MFT tools effectively, businesses can create a robust barrier against these advanced attack techniques.

 Insufficient ACLs on Network Shares and Services

Access Control Lists ("ACLs") play a pivotal role in determining the permissions assigned to different users or user groups for any object, such as a file or a directory. A well-implemented managed file transfer solution can significantly enhance the security and management of file transfers, which can be instrumental in addressing issues related to ACLs on Network Shares and Services. Here’s how:

  • Centralized Access Control:  MFT solutions typically come with a centralized administration interface where IT administrators can define who can access what, thereby ensuring that only authorized users have access to specific data.
  • Role-Based Access Control (“RBAC”):  Our MFT system allows the assignment of user roles.  Depending on their role, a user can be granted or denied access to specific files, directories, or configurations in case of admin roles.  This granular level of control ensures users only have access to data relevant to their role, thereby reducing the risk of data breaches.
  • Detailed Audit Trails:  One of the strengths of our MFT solution is its ability to log every action taken on the system. This means every file transfer, login attempt, and administrative change is recorded, ensuring that any unauthorized or suspicious activity can be quickly identified and investigated.
  • Secure Transfer Protocols:  Our MFT solution supports secure transfer protocols like SFTP, FTPS, AS2, and HTTPS.  These protocols ensure data is encrypted during transit, protecting it from eavesdroppers.
  • Encryption At-Rest:  Our MFT platform also supports encryption of data at-rest.  This ensures that even if malicious actors gain access to the storage infrastructure, they won't be able to read the data without the decryption keys.
  • Workflow Automation:  Automated workflows can beset up to move data between systems, users, and locations.  These workflows can be designed to ensure data does not end up in unintended or insecure locations.
  • Integration with Identity and Access Management (IAM) Solutions:  Our MFT platform can be integrated with IAM solutions, ensuring consistent application of access controls across different systems and platforms.
  • File Retention Policies:  Another key aspect of our MFT system is that it allows administrators to set up individualized user-based file retention policies, ensuring that data isn’t kept longer than necessary, thereby reducing the potential attack surface over time.

While an MFT solution can play a pivotal role in mitigating risks associated with insufficient ACLs on network shares and services, it’s essential to remember that no single tool or solution will provide complete security.  Implementing an MFT solution should be part of a broader data security and access control strategy that includes regular audits, user training, and continuous monitoring.

Poor Credential Hygiene

While MFT software primarily focuses on the secure and efficient transfer of files, its features inherently support better practices in credential management and use. Here’s how:

  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA):  bTrade’s MFT solutions support MFA, requiring users to provide two or more verification methods before accessing the system. This ensures that even if a password is compromised, malicious actors would have difficulty accessing the system without the second verification factor.
  • Integration with Enterprise Identity Solutions: Our MFT platform supports integration with Identity and Access Management ("IAM") or Single Sign-On ("SSO") solutions. When integrated, the MFT system can leverage the strong authentication and credential management practices of these systems.
  • Password Policies:  bTrade’s MFT solutions allow administrators to enforce strong password policies, such as minimum length, complexity requirements, and expiration intervals. These policies can deter the use of easily crackable passwords.
  • Encrypted Storage of Credentials:  Our MFT software will store user credentials (or their cryptographic representations) in encrypted formats, ensuring that even if there is a breach, the actual credentials remain secure.
  • Secure Transmission of Credentials: During login or any other authentication process, the credentials are transmitted using secure protocols like HTTPS, SFTP, or FTPS, ensuring they are not intercepted in transit.
  • Audit Trails:  bTrade’s MFT solutions provide comprehensive logging and auditing features.  Any access, including failed login attempts, can be tracked.  This can be useful in detecting and responding to suspicious activities that might indicate compromised credentials.

While the bTrade MFT solutions can indeed support and even enhance credential hygiene within an organization, it is vital to maintain broader cybersecurity practices. This includes regular training for employees about the importance of credential hygiene, monitoring for exposed credentials, and using additional layers of security like network segmentation and intrusion detection systems.

 Unrestricted Code Execution

Unrestricted code execution poses a significant security risk, potentially allowing attackers to execute arbitrary, harmful code on a system and undermine its security. Managed file transfer software can effectively mitigate this threat through several strategies:

  • Enhanced Data Encryption: MFT software provides robust encryption for data both in-transit and at-rest. This ensures that files and data transferred through the system are protected from tampering, or unauthorized access, thereby reducing the risk of code injection.
  • Integrated File Scanning: By integrating with file scanning capabilities, MFT software can seamlessly work with solutions designed to detect and neutralize harmful code. These systems can block, quarantine, or flag files containing suspicious or malicious code, thereby enhancing your security posture.
  • Policy-Driven File Deliveries: Implementing policies based on file names and types can be a crucial aspect of MFT software. In allowing only those files that meet specified naming conventions or file types, MFT solutions play a vital role in preventing the spread of malicious code.

By implementing these security measures in a managed file transfer solution, an organization can significantly reduce the risk of unrestricted code execution and enhance the overall security of its transfer operations. To reiterate, it is important to continuously monitor and update your MFT system to adapt to evolving security threats and vulnerabilities.


 As cyber threats continue to evolve, organizations must be proactive in addressing vulnerabilities. The Alert Code AA23-278A serves as a vital reminder of the importance of proper cybersecurity configurations. By leveraging proper controls in managed file transfer software, businesses can ensure they are not only compliant with best practices but also shielded against the most prevalent cyber threats.