Know the IM risks

September 2008 IT infrastructure

IM continues to evolve and company managers are realising that, when used correctly, it can be a powerful customer service tool to boost the bottom line.

Hubert Wentzel, divisional director, EOH Consulting, says the main strength of instant messaging (IM) lies in its immediacy. If IM does not detract from the user's real task and integrates with other business tools, then there is genuine benefit in this important technology.

According to IDC, there will be more than 506 million people using IM by the end of 2008. As it has, since the Internet's earliest days, IM continues to evolve and company managers are realising that, when used correctly, it can be a powerful customer service tool to boost the bottom line. And, with an increasing number of people choosing to work from home, IM will play an even more important role in the future.

Gartner research recently indicated that collaboration capabilities available to businesses will change fundamentally during the next five to 10 years. Rather than having one application where you do your work and another separate application where you collaborate with others about your work, the two purposes will flow together seamlessly. The application will offer collaboration when appropriate, guiding the user to contact the right person at the correct time.

Wentzel says it is important for SMEs to consider emerging technologies, like IM, to see how these can be applied appropriately to cut costs and improve bottom-line growth. "As an effective alternative to spam- and virus-ridden e-mail, IM is helping more and more businesses communicate cost-effectively and efficiently. This snappy technology does not, however, come without risks."

While IM has escalated amongst business users, IT security departments are still coming to grips with the threats it brings. The file sharing capabilities within IM make it easy for users to bypass traditional security measures and e-mail policies. Major advancements over the past few years have enabled instant messaging users to run computer scripts, play online games and initiate web conferences.

This added functionality has opened security holes which leave companies vulnerable to spam. The best defence in this regard is education.

As with any Internet-based technology, users need to be educated about the security issues involved with instant messaging. Yes, spam is a security threat, but not because of viruses, but because of people. It is a human tendency to open links and attachments from unknown senders, which underlines the fact that people are the weakest link in any security solution.

Indications are that the real threat for the future of IM is worms, which are non-discriminate and target all computer systems of a particular network. The number of worms for instant messaging is increasing each month, and looking at the success of some of these worms, clearly instant messaging is an up and coming platform for malicious threats.

So, while IM holds great potential as a business tool, it is often abused by employees and poses significant liability and security risks. Wentzel says that it is the onus of each individual business to ensure there are written policies in place regarding IM use on their network.

"Used properly, instant messaging can be an extremely useful addition to a company's communications tools. Instant messaging reduces time and effort and helps a business react quickly to new challenges, competition and customer requests. Before signing up for an instant messaging service, however, ensure that you have got the necessary network and computer security in place."

For more information contact Hubert Wentzel, EOH Consulting, divisional director, +27 (0)11 607 8100.

Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page

Further reading:

Putting secondary storage to work
September 2019 , IT infrastructure, Security Services & Risk Management
By 2022, more than 80% of enterprise data will be stored in scale-out storage systems in enterprise and cloud data centres, up from 40% in 2018.

Ensuring a seamless ultra-wideband ecosystem
September 2019 , Editor's Choice, IT infrastructure
FiRa consortium ensures an interoperable ultra-wideband technology ecosystem across chipset, device and service infrastructure through standards and certifications.

LanDynamix helps secure Michael Mount campus
September 2019 , IT infrastructure, Products
LanDynamix has implemented Fortigate, Fortinet’s firewall appliance, at Michael Mount Waldorf School in Bryanston, Johannesburg.

Network insight benefits business
September 2019, Duxbury Networking , IT infrastructure, Products
The Insight app provides ease of access to your network from any location, and simplified device discovery and setup, warnings, notifications, and status checks.

Highly adaptable wireless mesh network solution
September 2019, Duxbury Networking , Products, IT infrastructure, Residential Estate (Industry)
Rajant's Living Network infrastructure evolves and adapts to your growing and changing connectivity requirements.

Modular fibre-optic patch panel
September 2019, Jasco Trading t/a Webb Industries , Products, IT infrastructure
Telegärtner's Fibre Termination Box facilitates customised cabling in locations where large numbers of apartments or buildings have fibre-optic outlets installed.

Wi-Fi access points for SMMEs and startups
September 2019, Duxbury Networking , Products, IT infrastructure
Aruba Networks? latest offering, Instant On, delivers reliable, easy-to-manage network technology for small businesses.

Network switch for solar applications
September 2019, Duxbury Networking , Products, IT infrastructure
Duxbury Networking has released the latest addition to the Duxbury network switch range, a solar switch ideal for remote locations.

Argentine Railway chooses Radwin's wireless broadband solution
September 2019, RADWIN , IT infrastructure
Radwin's FiberinMotion will enable mission-critical applications onboard passenger trains, including CCTV, VoIP and future Wi-Fi connectivity.

SD-WAN: how and why
August 2019 , IT infrastructure
Software-defined networking in a wide-area network (SD-WAN) is emerging as a mainstream technology and is seeing increasing global adoption.