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Five predictions for instant messaging security in 2007

Organizations will face a number of factors in 2007 that will force them to address their instant messaging (IM) security and compliance practices, predicted messaging security firm Akonix last week.

Akonix predicted five major drivers that will spur companies to quit ignoring IM management and security as the technology continues to spread in the workplace. According to a recent paper by the Radicati Group, IM use at work will grow at a 22-percent clip over the next five years."The underlying principle is that the use of IM in a corporate setting is on the rise - both formally and informally," Peter Shaw, CEO of Akonix, told "Companies need to make sure that they understand that IM is a piece of their landscape and they need to put the proper safeguards in place so they can stay in compliance. We think it will percolate up beyond the IT people to the people responsible for corporate governance because there is more scrutiny on senior level management."A recent survey conducted by the American Management Association (AMA) and the ePolicy Institute showed that while at least 35 percent of employees use IM in the workplace, 79 percent of organizations do not have a policy in place, let alone some kind of management technology.

Shaw and his colleagues predict that IM will continue to come under attack by hackers. Akonix expects 2007 to show at least as much as the 92-percent annual growth rate seen in 2006 from these types of malicious threats.

Many analysts agree that the best way to mitigate these risks is to manage IM. In a recent report, Gartner analysts said IT organizations that fail to manage and protect public IM will experience 80 percent more IM-related security incidents than those that do.Beyond security incidents, the greater concern for many organizations may be problems on the legal front. One of the biggest factors at play this year are new federal rules on e-discovery that became effective last month, Shaw said. These new regulations put IM on par with email and other forms of discoverable evidence, making it necessary for organizations to know about and keep track of all messages sent to and from employees. This will be a tall task for most organizations - according to the study by AMA and the ePolicy Institute, 87 percent of organizations don't retain IM business records.Hitting even closer to home for some organizations could be a dramatic increase in legal action for hostile workplace and sexual harassment claims through inappropriate use of IM, Shaw predicted. In a recent survey, the company found that nearly one-third of respondents were harassed or threatened through IM in the workplace. The final threat-related prediction by Shaw was that 2007 will also see the rise of corporate espionage through IM. This partially is a result of the maturation of email best practices, leaving less mature IM security as lower-hanging fruit, he said."Many IT departments have done a very good job containing the information flow," he said. "So someone that wants to get around email rules, the obvious vector now is IM."The final prediction made by Akonix is that organizations will also find better ways to leverage IM management tools to improve workflow. Particularly useful is the ability to know when users are at their desks, so managers can automatically distribute information and duties based on this information.

"Incorporating that kind of information into existing application will have significant benefits," Shaw said.

Click here to email West Coast Bureau Chief Ericka Chickowski.

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