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DMZ Gateways: Secret Weapons for Data Security

Compliance / Privacy
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While many organizations exchange files by uploading them to a server in the DMZ, staging files in the publicly accessible DMZ makes them vulnerable to a variety of dangerous exploits.


Editor's Note: This article is an introduction to the white paper "DMZ Gateways: Secret Weapons for Data Security" available free from the MC White Paper Center.


Exchanging files with customers and trading partners is commonplace in today's global economy, but keeping that data secure remains a difficult challenge as does staying in compliance with the various regulations governing data security, including PCI DSS, HIPAA, SOX, GBLA, and more.


A common approach for protecting internal/private networks is for companies to install file-sharing services (e.g. FTP/S, SFTP, HTTP/S servers) in a public zone for trading partners to access. When those servers and files leave the safety of the private network, however, companies risk the exposure of those services and data to outside attacks.


This white paper addresses the following questions:

1. Why is it dangerous for companies to store FTP servers and other file services in the DMZ?

2. How does incorporating a gateway into the file transfer process provide better protection for sensitive data?

3. How do gateways keep an organization's private network insulated from external reach?

DMZ for Staging Files

DMZ stands for demilitarized zone, and it's the neutral network that resides between the Internet and your company's private network. The DMZ is provisioned with a front-end firewall that limits inbound Internet traffic to certain systems within its zone. On the back end, another firewall is placed to prevent unauthorized access from the DMZ into the private network.


An organization's DMZ typically contains Web servers, FTP/S, SFTP, and HTTP/S servers, as well as other services it wants to make available to its customers and trading partners. To serve their purpose, these services need access to the data files that will be shared with partners.


The DMZ serves as a staging area between an organization's private network and the Internet. In order to share a document with a trading partner, an internal program or employee first copies the file from the private network onto a server in the DMZ. The partner then downloads the file from that server using an approved protocol like FTP/S, SFTP, or HTTP/S.


When trading partners need to share documents with the organization, they upload the files to a server in the DMZ. Later, an internal program or employee scans for the files on that server and pulls them into the private network.

Dangers in the DMZ

While many organizations exchange files using this process, staging files in the publicly accessible DMZ makes them vulnerable to a variety of dangerous exploits:

  • If attackers gain entry to a file server in the DMZ, they may be able to access sensitive trading partner files that were placed there. These files could be downloaded and their contents could be exposed by the attacker. Even encrypted files may be at risk to sophisticated attackers if the keys or passwords can be compromised. This concern is causing an increasing number of compliance auditors to prohibit data storage in the DMZ, encrypted or not.
  • When the file-sharing services are in the DMZ, then any user credentials, certificates, etc. needed for authentication are likely maintained there too, which makes them more vulnerable to attacks.
  • Also at risk is the file-sharing software itself, especially if it can be administered from within the DMZ. For example, an attacker could create a "back door" user account into an SUP server through its admin console. This seemingly "legitimate" user account could then be used by the attacker to gather sensitive data files over an extended period of time. Audit logs for the software could also be manipulated if they are stored in the DMZ, erasing the attacker's trail.


To find out more, download the free white paper "DMZ Gateways: Secret Weapons for Data Security" from the MC White Paper Center.

Justin Phipps

Founded in 1994, Linoma Software provides innovative technologies for protecting sensitive data and automating data movement. Linoma Software has a diverse install base of over 3,000 customers around the world including Fortune 500 companies, non-profit organizations and government entities. Linoma’s success has been built on being very responsive to its customers' requirements. Suggestions on how the company can improve its products to better serve your organization are always welcome. Readers are encouraged to review the many positive testimonials on the company's web site. Customer references can also be supplied upon request. Linoma Software is dedicated to its install base of enterprise platforms and maintains professional partnerships with user groups, data security policy groups, and operating system companies.




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