Messaging Matters

IM ramps up a company's real-time communication, and offers potential productivity and customer-service benefits. At the same time, IM can carry intellectual property out of the company, and viruses in.

Instant messaging—employees love it, but CISOs regard it with ambivalence (at best). IM ramps up a company's real-time communication, and offers potential productivity and customer-service benefits. At the same time, IM can carry intellectual property out of the company, and viruses in.

So what's a well-intentioned security leader to do? The IT department can't simply block the use of IM. Yet giving users free rein to choose among IM products—with their varying levels of application security—bypasses a profusion of easy-to-use, add-on IM security products. Michael Osterman, founder and president of Osterman Research, says roughly 70 percent of companies still rely on consumer-grade products from AOL, MSN and Yahoo rather than software engineered for enterprise use. "In companies that have established a corporate standard, 34 percent have settled on one or more of these products," he says. As for companies that are either forbidding IM use or attempting to curb IM traffic, Osterman's research suggests that's an unsustainable strategy: 45 percent of respondents to an April 2004 survey report that they are unable to block all IM clients, which he says "tend to be very resourceful."

Osterman says that there are three important attributes of IM security: basic encryption, ensuring that messages reach only the intended recipients; archiving, so as to preserve the content of messages (especially important in financial services companies where regulations require retention of electronic discussions); and what Osterman calls name-space control, which involves enforcing a policy on employee IM screen names within a corporate directory.

Here are six examples of companies whose products may help businesses get a grip on IM.

Akonix www.akonix.com

Akonix claims that its L7 Enterprise product aims to bring security, real-time management, reporting and regulatory compliance to the wild world of enterprise IM. The product supports AOL, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo IM clients—with optional connectors for integrating IM traffic from IBM, Microsoft and Reuters. L7 Enterprise offers real-time policy enforcement and management, plus other features such as logging and archiving.

Endeavors Technology

Endeavors' Magi Secure IM product allows its customers to secure all public IM users—regardless of which IM application they're using. Its features include certificate-based authentication (built on technology from RSA Security). Magi Secure works with AOL, MSN and Yahoo clients.

FaceTime Communications www.facetime.com

At the core of FaceTime's IM suite is IM Director, which provides multinetwork connectivity and security, auditing, routing and management controls. In addition, its applications integrate with existing IT applications including antispam, content scanning and encryption software, among others, in order to protect existing technology investments.

IMlogic www.imlogic.com

The IMlogic IM Manager provides a centralized way to manage security and policy enforcement for IM usage, and it works with a very broad range of IM clients. IMlogic claims that IM Manager is the only IM management application deployed that supports more than 80,000 seats in a single global installation across multiple IM networks. IM Manager offers out-of-the-box support for archiving and other compliance-related features as well as real-time performance monitoring.

Sigaba www.sigaba.com

Sigaba Secure IM enables corporate users to conduct multiuser conversations from desktop computers and other platforms, and to collaborate with workgroups, the customer base and across enterprises. It offers authentication at both ends of the conversation, digital signatures, encryption, integrity checking and antivirus scanning.

SurfControl www.surfcontrol.com

SurfControl's Instant Message Filter helps companies manage IM virus and bandwidth monitoring—while also protecting their data and network by limiting or blocking access to unauthorized public IM programs, even down to a unique IP address, group or subnetwork.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

The 10 most powerful cybersecurity companies