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Gartner: Watch Out for IM

When it comes to instant messaging, one analyst firm contends that organizations have to ask how much that free software is costing them.

Gartner issued a bulletin this week, "Don't Allow Free Instant Messaging in Your Enterprise," pegged to Microsoft's recent release of a security bulletin fixing a critical vulnerability in MSN Messenger. It is the latest of more than half a dozen recent vulnerabilities discovered in free messenger products from Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo, coming as the IM tools gains more widespread use in the enterprise.

Gartner analyst Richard Stiennon finds the latest Microsoft vulnerability especially galling because it introduces the capability for an attacker to execute any code on the target system without the user having to take any action. Stiennon contends the new vulnerability opens MSN Messenger to participation in future multi-pronged attacks along the lines of Code Red.

Stiennon acknowledges that enterprises permit the free presence and chatting tools because of the productivity gains they allow within and across enterprises. "Yet the inherent weaknesses in both the software and infrastructure of the major free IM providers -- e.g., AOL Time Warner, Microsoft and Yahoo -- create significant risk for enterprises allowing IM traffic through the enterprise firewall," Stiennon says in his report.

Among the recommendations in the bulletin, is one that security administrators begin to treat IM like other pieces of the communication infrastructure and pay serious attention to patches for instant messaging systems.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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