Alternative Instant Message Applications Pose Network Security Threats For Businesses

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Trillian, Adium, and other IM applications may bypass company filters.

By now, most computer users have encountered the most popular "big-name" instant message (IM) applications: AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger, and Google Chat. Some IT departments have taken measurable steps to block employee access to these applications for optimal network security and employee productivity. However, savvy employees have an alternative: they can turn to other IM options to log in to their traditional application accounts. Many of these applications can even log in to multiple networksat once, giving employees simultaneous access to their AIM, MSN, Yahoo!, and Google contacts.

Some of the most notable alternative IM applications are listed below, including their related security/productivity issues:

Trillian: Perhaps the most popular multi-network application, Trillian can often work on networks where applications such as AIM are blocked. Trillian supports file sending and also hyperlinks in-conversation text to Wikipedia entries, giving employees further incentive to read non-work-related material.

Pidgin: Formerly known as GAIM, Pidgin is a free open-source application that offers access to MSN, Yahoo!, AIM, ICQ, IRC, and a number of other chat networks. Pidgin uses tabbed message windows, giving employees the ability to hide multiple chat conversations under one window.

Miranda: As with Pidgin, Miranda is a free open-source application offering access to multiple popular IM networks. Miranda offers customization and expansion through downloadable plug-ins. Any download is a potential security hazard, and employees seeking to customize their Miranda application create network security threats.

Adium: For offices using Macs, Adium is a popular alternative IM client that offers similar functionality to Trillian. Previous iterations of Adium did not support Yahoo! and AIM networks, but the current version does, opening up further options for employees to chat on company time.

"IT departments often block the main IM networks but fail to cover the alternatives." says James Tanner of Comvigo. Comvigo develops and publishes IM Lock, an IM/web security filter for businesses, schools, and homes. "Consequently, any employee aware of these alternative applications can have free reign to download and use them, causing security and productivity problems."

According to comScore, 2006 Internet usage statistics showed that nearly half of the online population used IM in some form. IM's popularity in the workplace is continuously increasing, especially with the younger Internet generation currently graduating from college and integrating into the workforce. And with new IM innovations being developed everyday -- including upcoming market entries from MySpace -- IT departments are faced with a new challenge: keeping up with IM technology.

A number of Internet filters currently used by businesses lack the range to properly address these alternative applications. As IM becomes a more mainstream form of communication, its inherent security and productivity risks will only increase. Tanner advises all IT departments to stay abreast of the quickly evolving IM technology -- and methods to handle it.

"For business security and productivity reasons, it's extremely critical that IT departments are aware of these alternatives and how to block them," says Tanner. "When we developed IM Lock, we knew we were attacking a moving target. If we focused just on AIM, Yahoo!, and the other big networks, tech-savvy users would quickly figure out a way around us. We committed to keeping pace with technology to integrate whatever new alternatives came about through our revisions and updates. It's a philosophy all IT departments should adhere to."

For more information on Comvigo's IM Lock, visit Comvigo IM Lock.


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James Tanner
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