Half of IM Users Accept Downloads

Security experts have warned that instant messaging (IM) can bring all kinds of security breeches into both the home and the enterprise. A new study from anti-virus software developer Central Command finally puts some numbers behind those assertions.

In a recent survey by the company, 48% said they have accepted and downloaded a file transfer using their IM software within the last six months. Thirteen percent said those transfers came from a friend(s), while 20% said they came from a co-worker(s). Six percent reported accepting transfers from families.

Here’s the scary part — 15% of all IM users said they accepted file transfers from unknown parties. These people are just asking for viruses, worms and other dangerous programs to invade their computers.

An increase in the use of IM software as the preferred form of online communication raises concern about the future of virus writing trends in these channels, Central Command said.

File-sharing applications like Kazaa and Morpheus are also very prevalent on users’ desktops, according to the study, with 55% of respondents saying they’ve used such programs. However, only 39% knew of the risks associated with downloading files from these kinds of applications.

E-mail users, meantime, are showing that they’re starting to understand the importance of protecting themselves from computer viruses and other forms of malicious software, also known as malware. When asked about the handling of e-mail attachments from an unknown source, the results showed that 58% of the respondents would delete the attachment immediately and 41% expressed they practiced extreme caution when viewing any attachment regardless of the sender.

When it comes to e-mail use, “These numbers mark a great improvement from a year ago,” said Steven
Sundermeier, product manager at Central Command, Inc. “We have relentlessly preached about the risks associated with e-mail attachments and we’re finally seeing that message sticking in users minds. Unfortunately, the lesson doesn’t end with e-mail-based worms as other types of applications (IM, file sharing) are now being targeted.”

In terms of IM usage, 41% said they logged into IM for between 15 minutes and 60 minutes per month. Thirty-four percent, meantime, spent between 61 minutes and 300 minutes in IM sessions, while 13% burned up their Internet connections by “speaking” for 301 minutes to 600 minutes. Just 9% said they chatted for less than 15 minutes, and 3% said they participated in IM sessions for more than 601 minutes a month.

Thirty-nine percent of survey respondents said they use IM as a form of communication. Of those, 37% use AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), 27% use AOL-owned ICQ, 16% log onto MSN Messenger and 12% use Yahoo Messenger.

Overall, the number one reported virus was Worm/Klez.E&G at 24%, according to the survey. In second place was W32/Nimda at 10%, followed by W32/Magistr.B and W32/Yaha.E at 7% each, and W95/Hybris at 6%. Perhaps the most surprising statistic here is that 46% of respondents didn’t know the name of the virus that infected their respective systems.

Central Command’s survey was based on responses to a questionnaire it e-mailed to more than 943,000 PC users. The company reported a 7% response rate. Not all respondents answered every single question on the survey. The full results of the survey are at Central Command’s
Web site.

Medina, Ohio-based Central Command has a vested interest in the survey’s results. It sells its Vexira Antivirus line of products, starting with a home version for around $30. Enterprise versions of the Vexira line are also available. The company also offers 30-day free trial versions of all of its anti-virus products.

Bob Woods is the managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.

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