Demand for instant messaging security skills rises as use doubles

Analysts predict mainstream acceptance of IM from 2006

Analysts predict mainstream acceptance of IM from 2006

What is it?

Instant messaging allows messages to be exchanged electronically in real time between two or more people. Unlike a dial-up system such as the telephone, it requires that all parties be logged onto their service at the same time. According to the European Association for E-Business, the number of instant messaging users within organisations is likely to double this year to 80 million worldwide.

Some firms have incorporated instant messaging into their communications infrastructures and some are trialling it. Some have no plans to deploy instant messaging, but unofficial use is rife. Without a policy, holes are opened into which worms can crawl and out of which corporate information can leak.

Microsoft, IBM, Sun and Novell all have instant messaging applications, and there is demand for people with the skills to implement secure instant messaging and to extend the applications into conferencing and "presence" activities.

Where did it originate?

In 1996 Israeli company Mirabilis created ICQ (I seek you), the first commercial instant messaging application. Software suppliers and service providers such as AOL and Yahoo offered their own. Mergers and collaborations followed - AOL took over ICQ, and is working with Macromedia, but interoperability has been slow: AOL's Instant Messenger is now compatible with ICQ.

Standards include Simple (Session Initiation Protocol for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions) and XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol), formerly known as Jabber.

What is it for?

Public instant messaging networks are open to anyone and security is minimal. Private instant messaging networks can be managed, secured and integrated and provide an audit trail. Users can choose a level of presence from fully available to do-not-disturb.

Analyst firm Ovum said instant messaging can be used at three levels:

  • As a form of communication
  • As a presence application that publishes the current status of participants in the network
  • As a rich collaborative framework in which people can interact more rapidly.

What makes it special?

Instant messaging provides a real-time dimension to activities such as calendaring. Content-rich applications are emerging, such as AOL's joint venture with Macromedia.

Instant messaging increasingly supports file transfer, presenting similar risks to e-mail. Firewalls need to be reconfigured and anti-virus practices extended. Suppliers such as Sophos and SurfControl offer remedies for viruses and inappropriate traffic.

How difficult is it to master?

Installing and configuring instant messaging takes half a day on a typical five-day Microsoft Exchange course.

Where is it used?

The technology is immature and early adopters are outnumbered by the cautious. Some financial organisations use it for real-time communication between traders; others ban it for fear of breaches. Analysts predict mainstream acceptance from 2006.

What systems does it run on?

Alternatives to the big-name systems include Kopete, which supports AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo, Jabber, Novell Groupwise Messenger and Lotus Sametime. Gaim can log in to multiple accounts on instant messaging networks simultaneously.

What is coming up?

Instant messaging/mobile phone interoperability.

Rates of pay

Installation and support posts pay from £20,000. Messaging specialists with security skills can look for £40,000 and upwards.


You can download a version of the Exchange messaging software development kit. Jabber downloads and tutorials are also available. O'Reilly and Pearson publish guides to developing and securing instant messaging apps.


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