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The increasing use of Instant Messaging (IM) in the workplace is exposing UK companies to fresh security and legal threats, a study out Monday claims. One in six (16 per cent) of 2,000 UK consumers quizzed in a YouGov survey admitted using IM at work to send or receive sensitive company information or documents. A quarter of respondents (25 per cent) used IM to gossip about work colleagues - twice as many men than women use IM for this purpose. Four in five (80 per cent) of 18-29 year olds use IM to chat to friends and family whilst at work.

And while they're not flirting, gossiping or engaging in a spot of industrial espionage a significant minority of 18-29 year olds (seven per cent) are using IM to look for alternative employment. Cheeky.

The flip side of this is that IM can be a valuable business tool. Workers said it helps them to improve communications with customers or partners (46 per cent), enables faster decision making (33 per cent) or helps in information gathering (39 per cent).

Respondents to the YouGov survey were also asked what IM controls already existed in their workplace. The study found 21 per cent of companies have a general policy in place regarding IM use and a further 19 per cent also had technology installed to manage or block IM communications. However 62 per cent worked for companies that had no policy or technology in place.

Here comes the sales pitch...

The survey was commissioned by IM security specialist Akonix Systems. In a separate study, Akonix found that viruses that spread across IM networks more than tripled in the first three months of 2005. And that's just the start of it. Firms failing to manage IM communications are also potentially failing to adhere to stricter corporate governance regulations, such as Sarbannes-Oxley, which requires companies that trade in the US to provide audit trails of key communications. Then there's the risk of potential lawsuits from disgruntled employees, who might find out they'd been bad-mouthed in IM chats within the workplace. Terrifying stuff.

Akonix is using the study as a marketing tool to accompany the opening of its first UK office in Guildford, Surrey, this week. By setting up shop in the UK, Akonix hopes to work with partners to push more sales of its flagship Akonix L7 Enterprise product, which adds various security, auditing and logging capabilities to third-party IM tools. Existing partners include including European security companies and resellers, such as Business Union Distribution, Pentura, TSG, SXC and Webwasher. ®

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