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Mitigate IM Security Threats

Follow these steps for protecting IM as a business tool.
May 14, 2007

Instant messaging has become a common means of communicating in the business world. Once limited to desktops, IM is now available via handheld devices and cell phones, allowing users to chat from virtually anywhere.

However, like any form of communication through the internet, IM is accompanied by its own set of security risks. Whether deployed by users at their place of business or on their home computers, IM is generally unprotected and unmonitored, leaving it vulnerable to attacks. One infected computer can result in messages being sent to all users in an IM contact list on that machine.

Furthermore, popular IM protocols are increasingly becoming interoperable. While this allows users from one network to communicate with users from another network without having to install multiple IM clients, it may also encourage attackers to concentrate their efforts on these protocols that represent a larger group of users. In such a scenario, any malicious code that propagates through one of the protocols could likely propagate through the other.

Some of the most common threats to IM include:

A few of the proactive steps that small businesses can take to secure their IM environments include:

By educating employees, enforcing policies, installing protective technologies and, where possible, encrypting IM conversations, you can continue to enjoy the benefits of using IM as a business tool while also mitigating its risks.

Mark Pieningis senior director of worldwide small- to medium-sized (SMB) marketing for Symantec Corporation, which offers a host of security and availability products, as well as information on the latest security threats at He can be reached at