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Study tattles on workplace IM

Instant messaging is still used mostly for personal chitchat in offices, according to a new survey.

Software
Instant messaging is still used more often for personal reasons in the workplace than for business purposes, a new survey shows.

Fifty-seven percent of the people surveyed at 300 companies worldwide use IM at work for personal chitchat more often than for job-related communications, according to a report issued Thursday by Meta Group.

However, many companies have also adopted a more stringent attitude toward managing IM use than they have applied to e-mail and phone calls.

Only 3 percent and 5 percent of the companies prohibit personal use of the phone and e-mail, respectively, according to Meta Group. But nearly 16 percent of the companies have banned the use of IM completely.

A predominant number of companies have also taken a hard line on personal IM use, compared with e-mail. Sixty-eight percent allow limited use of e-mail for nonwork activity, but only 44 percent make similar concessions for IM.

However, the study also found that 35 percent of companies have no official policy regarding instant messaging.

Ted Tzirimis, an analyst at Meta, said most companies still view IM as a consumer-driven application. Nonetheless, Tzirimis said the instant access to co-workers offered by IM is also proving itself as a valuable tool.

In a nod to IM as a productivity tool, Meta found that 56 percent of employees use the applications at home for work-related activity.

"Organizations are still just beginning to realize the benefits of allowing IM in the workplace, such as being able to find someone immediately," Tzirimis said. "We believe that by 2008, most new employees will be assigned an IM account when they start a job, just as they are issued an e-mail account today."

As a result of IM's growing popularity, Tzirimis said an increasing number of companies are looking at ways to track employee use of the applications.

A recent survey released by ePolicy-AMA found that 60 percent of U.S. companies now use software to monitor incoming and outgoing external e-mail and that 27 percent of employers use software to track internal e-mail between employees. By contrast, employers have been relatively slow to monitor instant messaging, with just 10 percent of companies surveyed indicating that they have taken steps to track desktop chat.

Tzirimis recommends that more companies use tools for tracking IM use, because the software potentially represents an even larger security threat than e-mail, based on the sort of attacks designed to take advantage of the applications. Whereas an individual must typically click on an e-mail attachment to trigger a virus, IM threats can be transmitted and redistributed automatically in only seconds and without the same level of end-user participation.

"Perhaps even more concerning is the high percentage of people using IM for file transfers, which represents a huge vulnerability," Tzirimis said. "We don't recommend that companies try to ban IM use, but they do need to take precautions to better protect themselves from IM-based threats."

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