IM threats surge in September

Instant messaging programs are becoming a favorite target among malicious code writers, according to one security vendor.

Here's another reason for IT administrators to worry about the various instant messaging programs employees are using: September saw the highest number of IM threats to date, according to those who track activity for San Diego security firm Akonix Systems.

Akonix's Security Center team tracked the highest monthly total of new threats ever recorded, with 25 viruses in September, the company said in a statement. In the past, IM-borne viruses were often mutations of other variants. But last month seven new viruses appeared to be built specifically to target IM.

The findings are a wake-up call for organizations, showing that on average more than one IM attack takes place per day, Francis Costello, Akonix's chief technology officer, said in a news release. "It's critical that businesses secure their network from these potential threats, which are becoming more sophisticated by the day," he said. "In order to receive the business benefits offered by real-time communications, enterprises must ensure they are protected and in control of both public and enterprise IM systems, as well as P2P use on their corporate network."

Among the new viruses identified in September were Mete, Parda, Simbag and Lewor, the company said, adding, "These appear to represent the next wave of attacks. In the first half of 2005, many of the IM threats were variants of common worms, such as Kelvir and Bropia. While variants of these worms are still being issued, the frequency has decreased as new sets of viruses have begun to target IM networks."

In the third quarter of 2005, Akonix said it also monitored a new phase in the sophistication of the social engineering efforts used by IM virus writers. August marked the first time a virus queried the configuration of the client software to determine the language setting and then sent a message in the language of that client. September also saw an "international" virus with the Mete worm, which sent its messages in Spanish. In addition, the number of attacks on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks like Kazaa and eDonkey continue to rise with a total of 44 new threats in the third quarter, a 9% increase from the second quarter.

IT managers have expressed growing concern that increased IM use among employees is putting their networks at greater risk. Workers will use a variety of programs from the likes of AOL, Trillian, MSN and Yahoo! IT managers have said they have no way to centrally control the programs and monitor threats that may target them.

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