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3DES (also “Triple DES”) is an open encryption standard that offers strong encryption at 112-bit and 168-bit strengths.

3DES is a symmetric encryption algorithm often used today to secure data in motion in both SSH and SSL/TLS.  (After asymmetric key exchange is used perform the handshake in a SSH or SSL/TLS sessions, data is actually transmitted using a symmetric algorithm such as 3DES.)

3DES is also often used today to secure data at rest in SMIME, PGP, AS2, strong Zip encryption and many vendor-specific implementations.  (After asymmetric key exchange is used to unlock a key on data at rest, data is actually read or written using a symmetric algorithm such as 3DES.)

NIST‘s AES competition was held to find a faster and stronger replacement for 3DES.  However, 3DES has not yet been phased out and is expected to remain approved through 2030 for sensitive government information.  (Only the 168-bit version is currently allowed; permitted use of the 112-bit version ceased January 1, 2011.) NIST validates specific implementations of 3DES under FIPS 140-2, and several hundred unique implementations have now been validated under that program.  The 3DES algorithm itself is specified in FIPS 46-3.

See the Wikipedia entry for 3DES if you are interested in the technical mechanics behind 3DES.

BEST PRACTICE: All modern file transfer clients and file transfer servers should support FIPS-valided AES, FIPS-validated 3DES or both.  (AES is faster, may have more longevity and offers higher bit rates; 3DES offers better backwards compatibility.)