Tuesday, February 7, 2006 - Almanac Vol. 52, No. 21
How Secure Is Instant Messaging?
Instant Messaging (IM) can be a useful tool, but be aware of the following risks:
Don’t expect your IM conversations to be private. They travel over the network unencrypted and can be easily forged. IM is a bad way to transmit sensitive data such as credit card numbers, passwords, and social security numbers. It's about as secure as email, which is to say "not all that secure."
Worms are also a big problem. Several IM worms will send messages to all your IM buddies with instructions to "click here" to play a computer game or view an image, but point instead to a malicious URL that installs a virus. These messages will appear to your buddies either as you are initiating a session with them or in the middle of an existing IM session with you. And the worm is even smart enough to impersonate your buddy in the conversation if you try to verify his or her identity with a question like, "Is it really you?" To prevent infection, keep your IM software up-to-date and always install the latest security patches.