File transfer began in the 1970s, when people started to look beyond floppy disks for distributing digital content. One of the first online file-sharing platforms was Usenet, an electronic bulletin board that allowed community members to post news items. The functionality enabled users to share data files with others in the newsgroup.
In 1985, the first communications protocol, FTP, was established. The file transfer standard allowed users to transmit data between different computer systems using the same set of rules and syntax.
By the 1990s, the internet opened up communications across the globe, enabling people to share information over a massive network of computers. America Online (AOL) became one of the first Internet service providers. It offered a subscription-based, email platform with a range of web services including file transfer.
The Napster music site was created in 1999, enabling users to share mp3 audio files with their peers. The first year, it had 4 million songs in circulation. (2) The site is generally credited with being the first peer-to-peer file sharing service. It paved the way for other sharing networks such as Gnutella and Freenet in the early 2000s.
Today, many high-speed file transfer solutions are available to manage the flow of digital information. Cloud storage systems like Dropbox and iCloud allow users to store digital files of all types (including photos and video) offsite. Using the service, people can access and transfer files from any device to any device.
Copyright and security
The widespread transfer of files and sharing of digital content has presented ethical and legal challenges over the years. According to Wikipedia: “File sharing raises copyright issues and has led to many lawsuits. For example, in one case the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the creators of peer-to-peer networks can be held liable if their software is marketed as a tool for copyright infringement.” (3)
File transfer security too is a critical issue. A recent survey by Digital Shadows found 1.5 billion data files exposed through misconfigured FTPs, remote synchronizing of files and directories (Rsync), and other file transfer systems. “Vast exposure of data includes documents spanning payroll data, tax return information, medical records, credit card data and intellectual property.” (4)
Data breaches and failed transfers can impact an organization’s bottom line and reputation. According to a study by IBM Security and the Poneman Institute, the average cost of a data breach in 2018 was $3.86 million. The estimated cost for each lost or stolen record: $148.