Consumer-grade mobile messaging apps lack corporate appeal

Mobile messaging tools such as WhatsApp Messenger are useful and provide an alternative to SMS, but weak security architecture and dependence on wireless connectivity lessen their attraction.

Mobile messaging applications bring usability and convenience for consumers, but for corporate use, these programs tend to be less than secure and bring other concerns such as lack of user privacy and having to cope with network stability, industry watchers note.

Aapo Markkanen, consumer mobility analyst at ABI Research, said the proliferation of mobile messaging apps among consumers have spilled over into the workplace as many are using these programs to connect with other employees or for companies to touch base with their customers.

With these apps, communication is more instant and sophisticated than SMS (short message service) and more frictionless than e-mails, Markkanen pointed out. They also tend to be available on multiple mobile platforms and are not tied down to certain devices or networks, he added.

However, the main downside of these mobile messaging apps for corporate use is security, or the lack thereof, noted the analyst. He said since most of these apps were built primarily for the consumer market, convenience and cost considerations would likely overshadow security concerns.

This makes them more vulnerable to being intercepted by cybercriminals than a service designed for corporate use such as BlackBerry's messaging network, he added.

Paul Ducklin, head of technology for Asia-Pacific at Sophos, also said companies would run the risk of staff revealing too much information during chats with industry contacts and clients. This, he said, is hard to control because people are the weakest link when it comes to IT security.

Besides security concerns, the stability and robustness of the app as well as wireless networks are other issues that companies would face if they deploy these apps for work, Markkanen noted. Many of these apps are not stress-tested well enough and messages tend to get lost when data connectivity drops, he said.

This makes them less than ideal for sensitive and mission-critical enterprise communications, the analyst remarked.

Both their comments come after organizers of Singapore's National Day Parade, which was held two weeks ago on Aug. 9, revealed that they used mobile messaging apps such as WhatsApp Messenger, as well as mobile VoIP tools such as Skype and Tango, to ensure things ran smoothly during the event in terms of crowd control and traffic management.

Useful but clear policies needed
Employees in Singapore who use mobile messaging apps for work expressed mixed reactions with regard to their usefulness when approached by ZDNet Asia.

A banking professional, who declined to be named, felt her privacy was compromised when communicating with her colleagues using WhatsApp's group chat function. "Things that I do not want my co-workers to know gets spilled by my boss unknowingly, such as when he reprimands me for a mistake I made," she said

Another mobile messaging user, an insurance agent who too declined to be named, had a more positive experience. He said tools such as WhatsApp enable different agents to provide help and advice when needed in real-time.

"This is useful because it's a support system with which consultants are able to seek help and also help other consultants," he explained.

In order to safeguard corporate information, Ducklin urged companies to implement policies and offer advisories for the use of such apps. These tend to be similar to policies on bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs in that users are urged to set a password for their mobile phones so corporate information will not be easily accessed by outsiders, he noted.

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