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Instant messaging (IM) tutorial

Instant messaging (IM) has become the communication vehicle of choice for many enterprises. A real-time communication application, IM is essential to unified communications (UC) systems. This comprehensive tutorial details the ins and outs of IM operation basics, security and proper enterprise management.

Instant messaging (IM) technology has been embraced as a consumer-grade instant messaging client for years – actually...

predating the Internet. IM has only recently started to garner credibility in the corporate world as a valuable productivity tool.

Presence is a key driver of instant messaging. Presence technology allows users to see if the person they're trying to reach is available or not, making the value of real-time communications more potent.

In this comprehensive IM tutorial, you'll gain insight into instant messaging and how this real-time messaging application can enhance not only your communication processes, but can also be embedded into your business processes to significantly enhance collaboration and productivity. You'll find information on the standards and protocols that support IM, and learn how to manage IM tools on your network (whether you choose to develop an in-house solution or opt for a consumer-grade client). You'll also learn about the security risks and pitfalls associated with IM and how to mitigate those risks.

What is IM?

Instant messaging, often shortened to simply "IM" or "IMing," is the exchange of text messages through a a software application in real-time. Generally included in the IM software is the ability to easily see whether a chosen friend, co-worker or "buddy" is online and connected through the selected service. Instant messaging differs from ordinary email in the immediacy of the message exchange and also makes a continued exchange simpler than sending e-mail back and forth. Most exchanges are text-only, though popular services, such as AOL, MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger and Apple's iChat now allow voice messaging, file sharing and even video chat when both users have cameras.

Read more about IM's capabilities and functions

  • Real-time communications
    DEFINITION - Real-time communications (RTC) is any mode of telecommunications in which all users can exchange information instantly or with negligible latency. (
  • Sametime
    DEFINITION - Sametime, formally called "IBM Lotus Instant Messaging & Web Conferencing," is software from Lotus for group collaboration over the Internet. Sametime was developed around three essential components of any successful real time collaboration application: awareness, ease of conversation, and the ability to share objects. Awareness can be established using a Web page, a mobile device, or Sametime Connect. Conversation is possible using instant messaging (IM), a chat room, or video conference over IP.
  • Instant messaging and unified messaging
    Some businesses are standardizing instant messaging usage by deploying Microsoft instant messaging products like Microsoft Office Communications Server and Microsoft Office Communicator in conjunction with Exchange Server and Microsoft Outlook, as part of a larger unified-communications or unified-messaging strategy. Get up to speed on instant messaging issues and technologies with these articles, tips and tutorials. (
  • Instant messaging applications within unified communications (UC)
    Unified communications solutions are intended to incorporate all manners of conveying information and will almost certainly include some form of instant messaging capability.
  • Instant messaging: Glossary
    This glossary provides short definitions of terms related to instant messaging (IM) and other presence technologies. (
  • Instant messaging (IM) slang glossary
    Our IM slang dictionary defines the most popular and amusing acronyms and slang used in online chat applications.
  • Chat and text messaging abbreviations
    Chat abbreviations are commonly used in e-mail, online chatting, online discussion forum postings, instant messaging, and in text messaging (SMS), especially between cell phone users. This comprehensive list will help you navigate the jargon, slang and unfamiliar acronyms. (
  • Instant messaging: Questions and answers
    Find answers to your toughest instant messaging questions (IT Knowledge Exchange)

Instant messaging protocols and stand

IM is the most widely used application of presence technology. With presence, users can see who is available for a conversation and what the person's preferred communication device is at any given time. The result is increased workflow and collaboration capabilities. Learn more about presence and the other standards that support instant messaging.

  • Presence
    DEFINITION - Presence technology is a type of application that makes it possible to locate and identify a computing device wherever it might be, as soon as the user connects to the network. Instant messaging (IM) is a very common example. (
  • Rich presence
    DEFINITION - Rich presence is an enhanced form of presence awareness in which participants can determine if other users are online and if so, observe to a limited extent what they are doing and how they are doing it. (
  • Federated presence management
    DEFINITION - Federated presence management (FPM), also called unified presence management, is a technology that allows device users to control all aspects of their communications with other users, regardless of the make or platform of the devices. With federated presence management, users can control when and how they communicate. (
  • Presence leveraging
    DEFINITION - Presence leveraging is an integral feature of SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE), an add-on to the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). The ultimate objective of presence leveraging is to facilitate immediate, real-time, two-way communication among all users of the Internet who do not object to being located or identified, regardless of operating platform. (
    DEFINITION - SIMPLE (SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions) is an add-on to the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) that some industry insiders predict will be the basis for a new Instant Messaging and Presence Protocol (IMPP).(
  • XMPP
    DEFINITION - XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) is a protocol based on Extensible Markup Language (XML) and intended for instant messaging (IM) and online presence detection. (
  • Jabber
    DEFINITION - Jabber is an initiative to produce an open source, XML-based instant messaging platform. (
  • IMPS
    DEFINITION - IMPS stands for Instant Messaging and Presence Service. It is an OMA enabler for both instant messaging and presence. Interworking between several operators' IMPS platforms is being performed under a GSMA initiative that encourages interworking and deployment of instant messaging. (
  • SIMPLE charter
    This IETF working group focuses on the application of the SIP and SIMPLE to the suite of services collectively known as instant messaging and presence (IMP). (
  • Instant messaging (IM) and presence
    Get help with selecting a corporate instant messaging product and secure instant messaging, and learn how IM is expanding its capabilities to incorporate presence for multiple communication methods, called rich presence in's IM and presence topics section.
  • Presence: SIMPLE versus XMPP
    SIMPLE and XMPP are the two main IM-associated presence standards. Learn about these standards and how to leverage them to your advantage.
  • The benefits and challenges of presence within unified communications
    Learn about the benefits of presence as well as the challenges associated with presence implementation.
  • Avaya solves fragmented presence problem with federated presence server
    Avaya launches Intelligent Presence Server, which solves the problem of fragmented presence within an enterprise.

IM security

Instant messaging (IM) has proliferated for consumer and business use, and employees use it to communicate among themselves, and often with people outside the organization. It's affordable, easy to deploy, and increases worker productivity.

But that increased connectivity, if not configured securely, can come with a heavy price. IM allows viruses, Trojans and other malware to piggyback into your networks far easier than email attachments. IM messages can contain links to malicious Web sites, and confidential data can be compromised.

Learn about specific IM security practices that could save your business.

  • IM worm
    DEFINITION - An IM worm is self-replicating malicious code that spreads in instant messaging networks. When an IM worm infects a computer, it locates the address book for the instant messenger client, which is called a buddy list or contact list, and tries to send itself to all the infected person's contacts. (
  • Social engineering
    DEFINITION - Social engineering is a term that describes a non-technical kind of intrusion that relies heavily on human interaction and often involves tricking other people to break normal security procedures. Social engineering is easily executed through instant messaging (IM) and other real-time applications. (
  • Spam over IM (SPIM)
    DEFINITION - SPIM is spam delivered through instant messaging (IM) instead of through e-mail messaging. As IM becomes more prevalent, SPIM could impact the business community similarly to the way that spam does now, by consuming corporate resources and creating security problems. Because it bypasses anti-virus software and firewalls, IM is an easy means of passing on not only commercial messages, but also viruses and other malware.(
  • Encryption
    DEFINITION - Encryption is the conversion of data into a form, called a ciphertext, that cannot be easily understood by unauthorized people. Encryption is especially important in wireless and IM communications. (
  • Instant messaging threats become more sophisticated
    Instant messaging faces greater threats as more enterprises begin to utilize it, making it a more appealing target to hackers.
  • Instant messaging security addresses risks, compliance
    Instant messaging security risks, especially the potential for data leaks and policy breaches, are the biggest reasons businesses and organizations need to secure their instant messaging apps. These compliance concerns mean new sales opportunities for value-added resellers (VARs). (
  • Presence management and security
    Enterprises implementing instant messaging (IM) and other presence technologies need to know how to manage their system's security to avoid falling prey to external attacks.
  • 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.
  • Best practices for instant messaging security
    When properly implemented, instant messaging can be a valuable communication tool within an organization. However, without properly administered security, IM platforms can attract malware and other security breaches. In this tip, Brien Posey details the steps you can take to protect your organization from security problems when implementing an instant messaging system.
  • Instant messaging security essentials
    Instant messaging (IM) has many benefits for the workplace, but introduces security risks. This tip outlines security essentials for organizations using IM.
  • Secure instant messaging in the enterprise
    Enterprises need a thorough IM policy and the technical measures to back it up, regardless of whether IM is allowed or strictly prohibited. This tip outlines the factors you should consider when writing an IM policy and the technical measures for enforcing it. (
  • Developing instant messaging (IM) security policies
    Instant messaging (IM) security policies can help prevent security breaches due to IM use. Learn how to write and enforce an IM policy in this tip.
  • How to lock down instant messaging in the enterprise
    The popularity of instant messaging programs in the enterprise creates a huge problem for companies concerned about data leakage and Web-based malware. In this tip, application security expert Michael Cobb offers several strategies enterprises can use to control, monitor and ultimately secure IM applications. (
  • Can DHCP be used to selectively block instant messaging clients?
    Restricting instant messaging use has been a significant security challenge for organizations, but will DHCP help solidify an IM policy? In this Q&A, Michael Cobb explains which access control mechanisms are the most effective. (
  • Quiz: Secure instant messaging
    Take this multiple choice quiz to test your understanding of instant messaging security. (

Business benefits of IM: Enterprise policies and management

In addition to enterprises currently using IM, enterprises that do not intend to implement instant messaging should still create a policy that outlines the reasons for disallowing the use of IM on the corporate network.

Equally important in creating policies regarding IM, companies need to prepare the logistics of enforcing these policies -- whether that means utilizing network analytics tools, archiving, or using IT staff to patrol the network for violations.

Read more about creating and implementing IM security policies in the enterprise.

  • Parlay
    DEFINITION - Parlay is an evolving set of specifications for industry-standard application programming interfaces (APIs) for managing network "edge" services such as call control, messaging, and content-based charging. (

  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act
    DEFINITION - The Sarbanes-Oxley Act, administered by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), defines which records businesses should store, and for how long. It states that all business records, including electronic records and electronic messages (like instant messages) must be saved for "not less than five years." (

    DEFINITION - HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) establishes standardized mechanisms for electronic data interchange (EDI), security, and confidentiality of all healthcare-related data that defines an individual. (

  • The Parlay Group
    The Parlay Group is a consortium of member companies (including AT&T, BT, Cisco, IBM, Lucent, Microsoft, Nortel Networks, and others) who are working to develop parlay specifications. (

  • XMPP-Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol: SOAP and REST get closer company
    Learn about XMPP's origins, its primary technical concepts and how its initial area of influence has expanded toward more general purpose 'cloud' computing scenarios related to scaling. (

  • Learn IT: Instant Messaging in the Workplace
    Learn about enterprise IM in 10 easy steps, and take a quiz to see how much you've learned. (

  • Mobile instant messaging enhances company's business processes
    A mobile IM service acquired by a hosted VoIP provider encourages more companies to enhance their business processes.

  • Companies take IM threats seriously
    IT managers are finding security tools to shield internal systems from IM attack by keeping malware and phishers out, while letting trusted clients and friends in. (

  • Instant messaging policies reduce risk
    Creating instant messaging (IM) security and usage policies now will reduce risk and put IT administrators ahead of the game when they expand into unified communications.

  • Installing a secure instant messaging server on Linux
    Instant messaging (IM) servers can free-up storage and email resources in the enterprise. Learn how to install and configure an OpenFire server on Linux. (

  • How to selectively block instant messages
    Monitoring instant messaging traffic isn't easy, especially when constantly evolving IM applications are designed to exploit firewall vulnerabilities. Learn the best methods for taking on the challenging task of monitoring and controlling IM traffic in your enterprise. (

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