Possibly one of the most addictive aspects of the internet is instant messaging. Even if you prevent your employees from installing MSN Messenger, AIM or Yahoo, there are countless web sites that offer proprietary messaging systems that can be overlooked by some security applications.

For many people, messenger programs have become just another business tool, as vital as the phone or email. Indeed, given the real-time nature of such applications, they offer companies a much cheaper alternative to expensive phone conversations, and many companies actually advocate the use of such programs rather than phone calls.

Obviously, some middle ground has to be found, and Akonix appears to have found it with its product L7. Sitting on a Windows platform, L7 sits behind the firewall. It offers several deployment modes, the most typical being as a stand-alone proxy. For those that want tight integration with a firewall, Akonix L7 OPSEC certified is the only product in its class to support Check Point FireWall-1 via content vectoring protocol (CVP), and recently announced support for Microsoft ISA server 2000.

L7 checks all messaging traffic to ensure that the user is actually allowed to use messaging programs; if not, the connection is severed. Furthermore, all traffic is logged, offering an audit trail. L7 can be configured to specify which user can use which messaging program, and content filtering can offer a degree of security in cases of sensitive information being passed on.

Management and control of L7 is through the Enterprise Manager interface, a well-designed snap-in for Microsoft's MMC, which can handle all instances of L7 on your network. There is also extensive reporting capability through the Enterprise Reporter.

Integration is no problem: L7 requires no changes to the existing network topology. Furthermore, it is scaleable: it can handle up to 20,000 simultaneous messaging sessions - more than enough for most enterprises.

L7 is an easy-to-use product that virtually manages itself, and allows messaging programs to be used without fear of abuse.