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Instant messaging a security headache

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Instant messaging as a communication tool for business is on the rise, said Lee Weiner, senior product manager at Symantec Corp.

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"Organizations are embracing IM because they see increased benefits from communication, collaboration and reduction in cost," he said.

However, IM is potentially a risk factor for businesses because the increased use of it attracts virus writers and hackers to target IM.

"This is largely because IM is an unprotected method of communication, whereas email is fairly secure at this point," said Weiner.

In the last couple of years there have been a number of worms that have been very successful in using IM as a vector to spread, he said.

Symantec released IM Manager 8.0 in New Zealand last week. Weiner said that IM Manager integrates easily with existing tools such as directory infrastructure.

"You can manage security policies for IM using the directory information. Whether it is groups or user information in the directory, IM Manager integrates with it. It also integrates with antivirus and threat protection systems from Symantec."

The main drivers for managing IM are security, compliance and archiving, said Weiner. "IM Manager provides the capability to log and archive all of your IM traffic, all of your users' conversations," he said. "[The information] can actually be archived to a third party storage, as retention storage for compliance purposes."

Many people see IM as an informal, real time way to talk to friends. But there is a concern that the efficiency of IM could be reduced by staff spending too much time using IM, or using it to talk to friends, he said.

"If you look at email 15 years ago there were similar concerns, and now it has become the primary form of communication inside corporations."

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