Just when you thought it was safe to let employees access the Internet

– Includes history of IM
– Plenty of background info on network security threats
– Explains regulations on corporate message archiving
– ISBN No. 1-55558-338-5

Bookstores are full of depressing non-fiction works, which predict global warming, energy shortages, high unemployment, soaring health care costs and a host of other things that will make life and work difficult in the near future.

If these don’t dampen your mood, you can also pick up a book that’s bound to make you cringe at the way instant messaging is going make your networking job more difficult.

IM Security, published by Elsevier, is one of the more depressing books on the market these days, though it’s no fault of authors John Rittinghouse and James Ransome, who are simply telling the truth as they see it. Instant messaging, according to the authors, can bypass corporate security policies, get through firewalls and help spread viruses, worms, Trojans and blended threats.

The authors explain the differences between these threats, for the benefit of those who don’t know, and then explain how consumer instant messaging programs, such as Yahoo Messenger, America Online Instant Messenger and MSN Messenger, do not normally allow screening at the gateway or server level. This leaves companies with Web access vulnerable to a whole host of security concerns, including spyware, eavesdropping and spoofing.

The authors go into great detail explaining American securities laws and the Sarbanes-Oxley corporate accounting legislation, which require records of electronic communications. If workers are installing consumer IM programs on their office machines, there is not necessarily any way of keeping records of all communications, the authors note.

This begs the question: if workers are using IM to get around IT monitoring software and to ensure there is no audit trail, what will they do if the IT departments start to monitor all of this communication? There are other ways of communicating surreptitiously with people outside of the organization.

The authors do not recommend IT departments block IM, for two reasons. One is the advantages of IM, including long-distance cost savings, the ability to communicate immediately with experts, and the “presence awareness” feature of IM, which allows workers to determine whether colleagues on their buddy lists are online and available to chat.

Blocking ports won’t work
The other reason, the authors assert, is that it’s pretty well impossible to give employees Internet access without running the risk that they will use instant messaging. Blocking ports normally used by IM clients won’t work because IM programs will simply use a port that’s not normally blocked, whether it’s HTTP, SMTP, FTP or Telnet.

IM Security is very informative, well-organized and straightforward. It does not require in-depth knowledge of networking or IT security, and goes into great detail on both consumer and enterprise instant messaging programs, the history of IM, a model that explains how IM works and standards associated with IM, such as Session Initiation Protocol. If you believe there is really no way of preventing workers from using IM — short of making them sign an acceptable use policy that prohibits IM and then firing them if they violate it — this book paints a rather dark picture for the network manager.

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