Instant messaging (IM) allows us to chat in real time over the internet and on a network.
Unlike emails which are used to communicate with the recipient whether online or offline, Instant messaging is a real-time communication medium. It is used for both personal and professional purposes; many companies use it as productivity software.
The most common IM providers are Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN), Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, AOL Instant Messenger and Trillian. These messengers allow you to send and receive messages from your online friends anywhere in the world. It is a great way to stay in touch with people, but along with it comes added risk factors. One must be careful while using these online communication tools as they can be a breach of privacy.
What are the risks of Instant Messaging?
- People online are not necessarily who they say they are or seem to be.
- Somebody persuading you to download and run a virus-infected piece of software.
- Eavesdropping on your conversations. It does not guarantee the privacy as most of the conversations are not encrypted and can be saved for use offline.
- IM software may be vulnerable to virus or other attacks.
- Online chat rooms approachable through instant messaging – it can be undesirable places.
- Just like e-mail, it is a prime target for nuisance messages, or “spam”.
How to use Instant Messaging Safely
- Never type passwords, credit card information or other private data.
- Block strangers. If your software allows it, set up the system so that only people on your ‘allow’ list can contact you.
- Be very wary of disclosing any private information to a stranger you meet via instant messaging. Even apparently innocent information like your name, age and other information can be used against you by fraudsters.
- Never click on URL that you receive through chat from people that you do not know and trust, and that you have never met in life.
- Leave your online profile blank, or where you should enter data to use the system, enter fictitious data.
- Instant Messenger does not encrypt the chat you do, so do not use it to transmit any sensitive information.
- Disable automatic downloads.
- Verify information you receive on IM elsewhere. Check any security ‘advice’ you get.
- Keep your IM software up to date.
Instant Messaging has changed the way of how users communicate, but its benefits cannot outweigh its risks. The more users, the more chances for security holes, as it is difficult to control access and block ports when they are dynamic.
Home users are more at risk as they are not tech savvy and unable to foresee the risk involved. Many times they do not have an updated anti-virus which can protect them. Therefore, one should first get an anti-virus installed with updated definitions and then use IM. Also, taking backup of the data is a good idea to be secure.
To sum up, I can say that indeed Instant Messaging is a convenient way to stay in touch with family and friends, but there is always a risk involved. One can use it when required, with an anti-virus installed to stay safe. IM can act as a backdoor entry for hackers thus leading to exploitation through data and other security vulnerabilities.
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