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Microsoft delays IM beta over security concerns

An issue involving MSN Messenger's emoticons delays release of test version until next week.

Microsoft confirmed on Thursday that it has suspended the beta release of MSN Messenger 7.0 because of a potential security hole affecting one of the program's features.

The security concern stems from a feature called "winks," essentially Flash-based animated buddy icons with sound effects that users can send to one another. Apparently hackers can exploit the hole to send their own unauthorized winks to people, causing a "security problem" for the recipient, a Microsoft representative said.

Because of this discovery, Microsoft will pull the winks feature when it releases the MSN Messenger 7.0 beta next week. The software giant had planned to release the beta this week.

The winks feature was developed by Microsoft's IM development team Threedegrees. The group, largely consisting of recent college graduates, was formed in 2001 as part of Microsoft's efforts to develop services targeting 18- to 24-year-olds, or what the company calls the "Net generation." IM is central to these efforts, since the software has become a popular way for young Net users to socialize and interact.

Threedegrees services have made their way onto the current version of MSN Messenger, but their presence has been under the radar. MSN Messenger users can find links to download Threedegrees services, along with features that let groups of people share digital files such as music and photos.

In fact, Microsoft hopes to make Threedegrees' collaboration services useful as a way to share song playlists, while integrating features from its MSN Music store.

A version of MSN Messenger 7.0 beta leaked onto the Web last week, revealing other features, such as personalization tools and areas dedicated to MSN Search.