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The legal risks of uncontrolled IM use

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SANS - Survey on application security programs

White paper Everyone loves instant messaging, the chat-cum-presence tool of choice of the masses. And that love extends to the workplace...IM should overtake email as the preferred method of business communication by the second half of 2010, an IDC survey found last year.

But IM can create enormous headaches for their employers. We have selected this whitepaper from the Reg Library to tell you just how big that headache is.

The legal risks of uncontrolled IM use

This is in spite of the fact that many organizations - President Obama's White House among them - ban the staff use of IM for security and compliance reasons.

Blanket bans such as this may engender a false sense of security, according to this white paper prepared by a London law firm for Messagelabs (reg req'd).

“A younger workforce is adept at using IM and such usage is likely to continue to grow. IM tools are sophisticated and may enter networks, notwithstanding the fact that firewalls are in place, or obvious ports locked down,” the authors write.

A devious lot, the young.

Companies that do embrace IM are often much slower to assess its on their corporate risk profile, and therefore have no agreed policy on its use.

But monitoring staff use of IM is essential, for legal reasons:

A key consideration is that an employer can be liable for the acts of its employees, even if the acts have been expressly forbidden. From this we can conclude that an employer will not necessarily escape liability arising from IM use, even if a) the use of IM is forbidden, or b) the IM software used was not provided by the employer. This is why employers need to take the risks arising from IM seriously, even if they have a policy of forbidding its use, or simply no policy at all.

UK employers can be sued for the actions of their staff under the concept of vicarious liability for harassment; breach of confidentiality; infringement of IP rights; data protection; freedom of information; and defamation. Also they must keep records of IM conversations to comply with sundry regulatory requirements.

So where does Messagelabs fit in with all this? The Symantec subsidiary provides a dedicated hosted IM security service which allows customers to actively monitor and control IM use and in "many cases, provide a defence to actions brought on as a result of use of public IM systems".

The sales spiel is softly spoken and the content is instructive. Recommended.

The legal risks of uncontrolled IM use

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