Zone Labs moves to secure instant messaging

Zone Labs Inc. is jumping into the instant messaging (IM) security fray, but unlike most vendors Zone Labs will first target consumers and wants to secure IM on the desktop instead of the server.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco company known for its ZoneAlarm firewall plans to announce IMsecure Pro 1.0, its first step into the fledgling market for IM security. The initial product is meant for consumers and small businesses. Expansion to the enterprise arena is planned for later this year, said Fred Felman, vice president of marketing at Zone Labs.

Installed on the PC, IMsecure Pro sits between a user’s IM client and the public messaging networks. It scans IM traffic and blocks malicious code and spam. The product also encrypts messages sent between IMsecure users and allows users to set rules on outgoing messages and block features such as file transfers and voice and video chats, Zone Labs said.

IMsecure Pro supports the IM networks used by Yahoo Inc.’s Messenger, Microsoft Corp.’s MSN Messenger and America Online Inc.’s AOL Instant Messenger, Felman said. Any client that sends messages across any of these three networks is supported, including IM consolidators such as Trillian and EasyMessage, he said.

IMsecure Pro will cost US$19.95. A free, dressed-down version of the product for personal and non-profit users will be available by the end of the month, Zone Labs said.

On the enterprise side, Zone Labs plans to include IM security in a new version of its Integrity enterprise security software bundle that is due in the fourth quarter, the company said. Integrity will offer the same core functionality as the consumer IMsecure product but with added features such as client management and policy enforcement, Felman said.

Although there have not been many high-profile attacks using IM and the amount of spam on the networks is limited, the use of public IM networks poses a security threat, especially in businesses, said Pete Lindstrom, research director at Spire Security LLC, in Malvern, Pennsylvania.

“I think we are early in the process of threats. I would expect the viruses and worms will heat up, but right now I don’t see them as a huge issue. Right now it comes to rogue applications, network usage and securing of confidential information. Most of the apparent security challenges are on the enterprise side,” Lindstrom said.

Zone Labs is not alone in the IM security space, though many of the other vendors have an enterprise-only focus and take a server-based approach. A key feature most other vendors offer is logging of messages, a regulatory requirement in, for example, the financial services industry.

Zone Labs does not offer logging and has no plans to develop its own logging technology, said Felman. “Our product is ideal for environments where there are no legislative requirements and you want to utilize the public infrastructure safely,” he said. Zone Labs may provide a link to third-party logging products, he added.

Players in the IM security space with server-based products include IMLogic Inc., Akonix Systems Inc. and FaceTime Communications Inc. Houston-based IM-Age Software Inc. offers client-based software but is in the process of developing a server-based product to complement its desktop product, said IM-Age Chief Executive Officer David Pulaski.

Zone Labs obtained the IM security technology by acquiring IMsecure, a two-person Palo Alto, California, company, about two months ago. Financial details of that transaction were not disclosed.