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File transfer security the easy way

Service firm solves problem of transferring large, complex files easily and safely

By Bert Latamore
June 29, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld -

For years, file transfer protocol has been the standard for file transfer security. While FTP still offers the gold standard in security over the Internet, it isn't easy for nontechnical users to employ, and maintaining FTP accounts requires a great deal of manual attention from IT staffs, which has become increasingly difficult to maintain in the face of the staff cuts of the past few years.

Fixing the first of those problems often involves installing special software on users' computers. But this software can create issues for security staffers, particularly if it isn't part of the corporate desktop image and not preapproved by corporate security or if it's needed in a high-security environment.

Those were the issues faced by Microsystems, a firm that specializes in helping document-intensive companies, primarily law firms and pharmaceutical companies, to create high-quality finished documents including legal filings and submissions to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, from pieces that come from diverse applications and sources.

"Microsystems started in 1995 as a WordPerfect-to-Microsoft Word conversion specialist, working mostly for law firms," says Jeff Griffin, IT manager at the 40-person business-to-business service firm. "Somewhere along the line, we started doing postconversion cleanup, and we developed a set of cleanup tools that run from the Word tool bar."

Eventually, Microsystems productized those tools and sold them to clients. "Our customers combine and convert documents from multiple different applications, and these come into the finished document with a lot of extraneous stuff," he says. "It might take three hours to clean all that up manually. With our tools, it may only take 15 minutes."

Users also like these tools because they run inside Word, so they aren't constantly moving back and forth between the word processor and another application.

Microsystems also has a "document emergency room" service. Clients can send a problem document to Microsystems to get it fixed quickly. "Say a law office can't get a vital document to print to meet a filing deadline in three hours. They can send it to us, and our team will fix the problem in time to meet their deadline."

The company's services have gained extra importance as some state and federal jurisdictions have started accepting electronic filings in recent years. This can save time and money over printing and sending documents via courier. But it requires that the entire filing be compiled into what often becomes a very complex electronic document, all in the correct, consistent format, rather than being printed in sections.

Drawbacks of FTP

Microsystems used FTP or Secure Shell to transfer these often large and sensitive files, partly for the extra security this provides and partly because their size often precludes sending them as e-mail attachments. To help users with the technical complexity of FTP, Microsystems recommended some front-end client software. That worked well enough with the legal clients. However, at the back end, Griffin, who is a one-man IT department, found creating and maintaining the increasing number of FTP accounts for the vendor's growing client list arduous at times. So he began looking for a better alternative.

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