New product wants to make IM safer for businesses

If you can't stop corporate employees from using AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) while at work, then make AIM secure so they can use it safely and leave an audit trail.

That's the idea behind new Secure IM software from Endeavors Technology Inc. in Irvine, Calif. Secure IM, which is in beta-testing, is one of a growing number of products under development to make free, consumer-level instant messaging clients such as AIM workable for business users. Other IM clients available for free are Yahoo Instant Messenger and Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Messenger.

Instead of creating yet another separate IM client, Endeavors created software that works as a transport layer with the IM software to securely connect together users, authenticate their identities and allow them to collaborate online. Messages are encrypted, and users can accept or reject other users into their online sessions using the software. The software stores the sessions and provides an audit trail for record-keeping.

The company said the AIM version of their software will be the first of many releases that will be able to bring security and authentication to many other software applications.

Pricing hasn't yet been announced.

Other companies, including IM-Age Software Inc. in Houston and Akonix Systems Inc. in San Diego, also offer similar software to make instant messaging more secure for corporate users.

Richard Stiennon, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., called IM security software "a quick solution" to deal with a real problem faced by businesses using insecure consumer-level IM programs.

Proprietary business-ready IM software is available at a cost, and the free nature of the consumer IM software certainly helped spark its popularity in businesses.

But while the overlay programs such as Secure IM and the others would bring security to the consumer IM programs today, it may eventually become a moot issue, Stiennon said.

"In the long term," he said, "AOL and Microsoft and Yahoo are going to be offering secure services of their own."

On Monday, Yahoo did just that, introducing Yahoo Messenger Enterprise Edition 1.0, which adds features including encryption security, authentication and logging capabilities for audit control. The enterprise edition will be compatible with the existing consumer version of the IM software.

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