IM: an increasing security risk

Instant messaging (IM) is the fastest growing security problem facing firms today, a new survey claims. A rising number of companies are banning IM as a result of the wide-ranging security issues associated with the system.

The survey, conducted by analyst firm Meta Group, revealed that five percent of companies have banned email, but 16 percent now prevent employees from using an IM service at work.

"Although IM can be a valuable tool for real-time communication and collaboration, it can also have a viral effect when not regulated," said Ted Tzirimis, senior research analyst at Meta Group.

Additionally the survey of 300 organisations revealed 57 percent of employees are using IM for personal reasons. Tzirimis believes this could have a negative impact. "Organizations should view these numbers as alarming. They must implement strategies to harness the value that can be derived from sanctioned use of IM whilst limiting personal use of the application," he said.

Many companies limit the use of email and IM to ensure productivity. "We allow talking to other people within the company but there is certainly no sharing of files or external communication," said Dan Harman, remote access administrator at consulting firm Lewis Group.

IM usage has increased in the office for a variety of functions. A side-effect of this is the appearance of instant messaging spam (spim). The survey highlights companies now receive an average of 2.4 spim messages a day.

"CIOs must begin to fully explore options for managing IM," said Tzirimis. "An IM policy is a good first step. The more difficult step is discerning how to successfully implement and use IM within the enterprise."

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