• United States
by Ann Harrison

SurfControl tool blocks IM

Apr 24, 20033 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMessaging Apps

* First P2P, now IM is being blocked

Instant messaging applications have emerged as an alternative way to trade files outside of the hotly contested P2P networks. But tools that block instant messaging exchanges are in demand from corporate IT managers who are also driving the market for software that blocks file trading sites.

A new instant messaging filtering tool was introduced at the recent RSA Security conference by a San Francisco company called SurfControl. The SurfControl Instant Message Filter prevents users from installing and launching instant messaging systems from AOL Time Warner, Yahoo and MSN. It also blocks P2P networks like Kazaa. Companies that use the tool can block a specific instant messaging or file-sharing application from their server, while allowing certain trusted employees to be exempt from the controls.

At many firms, instant messaging was initially viewed as an enhancement to productivity because it was more efficient to message someone than pick up the phone. According to Osterman Research, more than 80% of U.S. companies report that they have some sort of instant messaging in use.

But companies are now concerned that the use of instant messaging systems places a burden on bandwidth, introduces security risks and cuts into productivity. Instant messaging applications are often installed by the users themselves and not controlled by the company’s IT department.

Some companies are also concerned about the legal liability of information leaked using instant messaging applications, or virus infected files imported through file trading or instant messaging use. But e-mail systems themselves present similar risks.

In response to these concerns, the instant messaging providers are beginning to create security enhanced corporate versions of their free instant messaging applications which they hope to sell to companies on the verge of cutting off instant messaging use.

But when you look at the astonishingly high rate of instant messaging use, you do begin to wonder whether employees deprived of unfettered instant messaging or file exchange systems, will simply migrate to a similarly unsanctioned application once instant messaging service is blocked. ComScore Media Metrix claims that AOL Instant Messenger is used by 62 million users, MSN Messenger by 20 million, and Yahoo Messenger by 18 million. Researchers at Osterman say that instant chat traffic will increase 130% next year to 4.3 million messages a day.

Problems could arise if the corporate versions of these near ubiquitous instant messaging tools do not provide the same functionality, or if users feel more attracted to tools downloaded without the consent or surveillance of IT administrators. If this is the case, I suspect that many instant messaging diehards will find ways to circumvent filters or locate another piece of free software that supports the same unencumbered information exchange they have grown accustomed to.