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IM security threats and resources

Instant messaging software can be a great addition to a company's communication strategy, but managers and employees need to be concerned about not only outside attacks, but also their role in maintaining a secure IM environment.

Instant messaging software is, at its core, a communications application that is associated more with personal use than business use. There was a time not so long ago when virtually every company, if not involved in IT or communications, blocked the use of instant messaging on its computers. But despite management's concerns that employee use of IM could lead to lower productivity, companies are now recognizing that trusting their workforce can be beneficial to business.

Employees, on the other hand, now see having IM software on their computer as a right, not a privilege, and as a result may not respect the intended use of the application. The lines often blur between personal and business use of a laptop, and that includes instant messaging. This is what employers are afraid of. Instead of shutting down IM completely and thereby eliminating an extremely effective means of communication, certain IM applications can be configured so that all conversations had via a certain "screen name" are logged in a folder for later viewing. This is also an incentive for employees to keep their IMs professional.

Outside hackers are gaining more and more information from our IMs than ever before. Often these hackers plant viruses in your IM application that cause a new message to be sent from your screen name to everyone on your buddy list with some sort of message and a link. I hope it goes without saying that you should never, ever, under any circumstances, click on such a link. But oftentimes, in a rush, we fail to discern the legitimacy of every IM, especially if it is from someone we know and "trust."

There are resources available to help you avoid all the headaches. True, you can't stop an employee from having an inappropriate conversation via IM, but you can make everyone aware that the two people involved in a conversation aren't necessarily the only two reading what is said. For outside disturbances, the resources below should help you start to make sense of the intense security measures companies are now putting into their IM and communication applications.

Instant messaging policies reduce risk
Developing instant messaging (IM) security policies

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