'Spimmers' face unified industry front

Amid news that a U.S. teenager has become the first person to be arrested on suspicion of sending unsolicited instant messages -- or 'spim' -- an industry consortium has released innovative software to tackle the problem.

Amid news that a U.S. teenager has become the first person to be arrested on suspicion of sending unsolicited instant messages -- or 'spim' -- an industry consortium has released innovative software to tackle the problem.

Back in December, instant messaging (IM) management company IMLogic partnered with security companies McAfee and Sybari to build IMLogic's Threat Center, which aims to protect users from peer-to-peer and IM threats, such as viruses, worms, spim and malicious code. The Center monitors honeypots (servers that attract security threats like honey attracts bees) on private IM networks run by AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo to identify the latest problems in the IM world. IMLogic was founded by Francis deSouza, who built Microsoft's first IM server.

And now IMLogic has released version 7.0 of it's IM Manager software, which it says is the first instant messaging management solution to be integrated with the IMLogic Threat Center for automatic real-time threat protection. IM Manager protects users against viruses and spam sent via IM.

According to the company, the launch couldn't have come at a better time. While market research firm Gartner has predicted that by the end of 2005, instant messaging will surpass e-mail as the primary way people interact electronically, the technology may be particularly attractive to the business world. Technology market research firm The Radicati Group has come to the conclusion that "more than 85 percent of all enterprises report using instant messaging for business".

Yet IMLogic says that "most IM usage is still unmonitored and unprotected" and that "Symantec cites in their recent Internet Security Threat Report that IM/P2P applications were used in 7 of the top 10 Internet threats in 2004, with IM security threats growing at 100% every six months."

However the software may not be as attractive to customers who already subscribe to an antivirus package, with both Symantec's Norton Antivirus and McAfee's VirusScan packages featuring the ability to remove viruses from files received via IM. IM Manager does have the ability to interoperate with Symantec's AntiVirus Scan Engine. Additionally, IM users may be able to simply restrict their clients to only receive messages from users who they have previously authorised, stopping rogue users from sending them messages at all.

Although 18-year-old Anthony Greco, who was arrested last Wednesday at Los Angeles International Airport for allegedly sending around 1.5 million instant messages advertising pornography and mortgages may be the first known U.S. citizen to be arrested for sending spim, it's certainly not the first time that the authorities have had their attention on the spim phenomenon.

America Online, Microsoft, Earthlink and Yahoo (which together form the Anti-Spam Alliance in the United States) announced in October 2004 that they had each filed new lawsuits in the U.S. Federal Court against senders of unwanted computer messages. The announcement was particularly noteworthy as it was the first lawsuit to target, amongst other things, spim.

The Australian Communications Authority told ZDNet Australia this morning that the sending of spim in Australia is regulated under the Spam Act 2003, along with e-mail, mobile phone text messages (SMS) and multimedia messages (MMS).

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