IM tricks keep coming

* Talking with fingers invading businesses everywhere

The question of how to send someone their username and password came up the other day, and a friend in a 200-person company had a clever answer. He uses the instant messaging module in Skype. Because many of his colleagues already use the Skype client, and the IM messages are secure and encrypted, he sends out usernames and passwords to critical financial systems without worry they’ll be intercepted.

I've said before I’m not a big IM fan because I like to answer queries via e-mail so I can think for a bit before responding. IM interruptions and demands for immediate answers disrupt my finely-tuned logical thought processes (and naps when the stupid announcement bell rings).

Most IM isn't secure, so don't think you can fire up AOL and type away like a secret agent. Skype built its own peer-to-peer messaging application and added 256-bit encryption to both voice and IM traffic streams. Most common IM clients send their messages in clear text form.

But e-mail isn't secure, either, because few people encrypt their messages. Some corporate IM systems provide encrypted messaging, but they generally require more infrastructure and administration time than companies want to invest. Even some surprisingly large companies just tell their people to use AOL.

Besides Skype and expensive corporate systems, a company called BlowSearch also offers encrypted IM. But companies offering IM for sales and support communications face a different problem: IM networks only talk to themselves, not other IM networks.

But things are improving. Two well-known options to support the big four IM networks (AOL, ICQ, Yahoo and MSN) have arrived: Trillian 3.1 from Cerulean Studios and the open source product GAIM. In fact, GAIM advertises support for the big four IM clients, as well as Gadu-Gadu and Zephyr, which are new to me (and possibly late April Fool's jokes, but maybe not).

New federal rules demanding more documentation might push even small companies into logging and archiving IM traffic. If that happens, every company might be forced to use an IM server. But Skype logs IM conversations at each client, which might be enough to avoid a server product.

If not, third-party collaboration tools like the Ipswitch Collaboration Suite aimed at small and medium companies often include IM (Ipswitch also encrypts its IM traffic).

Learn more about this topic

Blow Search

Trillian 3.1

GAIM

Ipswitch

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Copyright © 2005 IDG Communications, Inc.

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