Companies turn to secure IM to meet privacy concerns

With the use of instant messaging on an upswing, companies concerned about security, regulatory and privacy issues are sometimes turning to secure IM solutions that allow only authorised users access to IM -- while stopping others from sending instant messages.

That was the idea behind the deployment of secure IM software in the offices of the Producers Pension and Health Plans of the Screen Actors Guild. Kevin Donnellan, director of enterprise infrastructure services for the Hollywood-based actors union, said the office turned to secure IM last year in a bid to protect the privacy of the movie stars it serves.

"We are very concerned about the internal security with staff and the ability to block IM applications that could be used internally to send information on members," Donnellan said. "Any named star is most likely to be a member of the SAG health plan. Some of these would be fodder for The Globe and all those types of (entertainment industry) newspapers."

The health plan office is using IM Manager from IMlogic, to provide secure access for about 50 office workers. The agency is also using IM Manager to block IM usage for another 175 workers inside the group who are not authorized for its use, Donnellan said. Authorised workers are using free MSN Messenger clients for IM communications, which is then monitored and protected by IM Manager.

IM Manager supports all public and enterprise IM systems, including AOL Instant Messenger, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, IBM Lotus Instant Messaging, Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2003/2005, Jabber and more, allowing companies to use a mix of IM networks, IMlogic said.

Users can still download IM clients onto their desktop PCs, but they won't be able to run the software unless authorized through IM Manager, Donnellan said. "We didn't have any way to track that usage before," he said. "Now, we do."

The IM Manager software provides businesses with control and administration of all IM activity by their workers, including dynamic detection and routing of IM use on the network, and prevention of unauthorised IM usage, according to the company. Centralised administration tools allow IT workers to manage all public and enterprise IM traffic, including screen name registration and authentication of employees against the directory server before allowing access to IM.

Tools are also provided for message logging and archiving and for policy enforcement to provide control at the deepest layer of the network, including content filtering and blocking and file-transfer controls, IMlogic said. The application also includes antivirus scanning and advanced spam detection and blocking and is integrated with IMlogic's online Threat Center, which provides real-time updates and support.

Michael Miller, director of support services at Media General, a media company that owns television stations and newspapers, said he brought in IM Manager for about 130 users of the company's interactive division to maintain security and shut out computer viruses that can come through attachments.

"Before the interactive division was formed, there was a big chunk of people using (IM)," Miller said. Now, only the 130 authorised users at the company have access to instant messaging, out of about 8,000 workers companywide. Media General IM users run America Online's free client.

Lawrence Orans, an analyst at Gartner, said IM technology from IMlogic and major competitors such as Akonix Systems and FaceTime Communications increases security because they allow businesses to set policies on permitted IM usage.

"A lot of companies aren't savvy to the risks of IM, or they know the risks and they're looking the other way," Orans said.

While some companies do little to monitor their employees' IM use, the potential for viruses and network attacks will make it more important that they pay attention to potential problems, he said. "It will increasingly become risky to look the other way," Orans said.

Another analyst, Robert Mahowald at IDC, warned that there are still pitfalls to instant messaging, even with the use of secure applications.

The problem, he said, is that when users of secure IM communicate with other users outside the network, there is still the potential for viruses and other attacks to get through.

"You've significantly increased your chances of blocking (viruses and other problems) by having a secure IM solution in place," Mahowald said. "But it doesn't completely solve the problem."

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Todd R. Weiss

Computerworld
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?