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Security outfit Blue Coat Systems yesterday announced technology designed to guard against the misuse of AOL, MSN and Yahoo! IM applications on corporate networks.

Blue Coat's IM Traffic Control technology will ship in the Spring, as an additional feature of Web security appliances. These appliances are designed to combat the increasing number of Web-based threats targeting port 80 'holes' in corporate security infrastructures.

Appliances such as the SG-800 already cover content filtering, Web anti-virus and proxy cacheing to which Blue Coat is adding the ability to handcuff rogue IM use.

Nigel Hawthorn, European marketing director of Blue Coat Systems, said IM use can have substantial business benefits but still poses three main problems for corporates.

These risks are: the possibility the computer viruses will spread through IM, waste of employee time on personal conversations and the possibility of confidential company documents been sent out via IM (which, unlike email, is not logged).

The leaking of company documents through IM, of particular concern to finance houses, appears to be the best reason for considering Blue Coat's IM Traffic Control technology.

Viruses have been known to spread through IM but this risk is already covered by desktop AV packages, so we're unconvinced by Blue Coat's arguments that its add-on IM management technology is needed there.

So if IM is a particular risk to certain companies - why not simply ban it?

Hawthorn argued even if companies decided to prohibit use of IM messages, this policy is difficult to enforce through conventional firewall. AOL Instant Messenger, for example, is port agile and will try to connect via a variety of means (port 5190, port 80 and even FTP, according to Blue Coat).

According to analyst firm IDC, IM use will grow up from 80 million users in 2002 to an estimated 255 million worldwide by 2006.

Blue Coat cites this and Gartner research that approximately 70 per cent of enterprises have unsanctioned consumer IM on their networks to explain the need for its policy control technology. ®

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