According to the Radicati Group, 85% of businesses—both large and small— are now using instant messaging (IM) as a communication tool.Unfortunately, hackers are rapidly developing ways to use IM to spread viruses and gain access to computers and networks. Instant-messaging security vendors have reported an exceptionally high spike in attacks in recent months.IM attacks work similar to e-mail viruses; the sender tries to get the user to click on a link that takes them to a website where they’ll be infected with a virus, or it tries to get the user to download a file. Many of these attacks appear to be from legitimate sources or people on a “buddy” list.Just recently, researchers discovered a threat on AOL’s instant messenger system, but tens of thousands of computers had already been infected. Hackers then used a program to upload movies to the victim’s hard drive and use their computer as a vehicle for sharing it with others.These attacks are also getting more complex. Savvy IM users will often reply to an IM and ask their buddy if the link or file sent was safe. However, hackers have now developed an intelligent bot that will actually automatically respond to the message confirming the file or link is safe.Just like viruses, worms, and other security threats, businesses need to put measures in place to protect themselves from these new threats. The first step is educating your employees about these threats through your employee’s acceptable user policy. However, since there is always a chance someone will click on a link or download a file, education is not enough.If you currently use IM, we urge you to contact our office about installing the proper software and security measures to make sure you don’t fall victim to these growing attacks.