Experts have called for businesses to assess and secure instant messaging systems as a priority this year, ahead of a predicted surge in attacks.

Although IM has become a de facto business tool, many businesses allow workers to use downloaded desktop client tools rather than secure, enterprise-wide offerings.

"We'll see a big boost in enterprise use of centrally controlled IM in 2007, said Mark Sunner, chief security analyst at MessageLabs (pictured). "It's a genuinely useful business tool. The threat levels are low at the moment, and this is due to the lack of interoperability between IM clients. However, AOL, Googletalk, Yahoo and MSN are working on interoperating this year, and with will create an ecosystem for attack."

A recent report from Gartner said that IT administrators who do not manage and protect public instant messaging will experience 80 per cent more IM-related security incidents than those who do. 'IT organisations must keep this threat in context and balance it against the productivity benefits of IM," the report warned.