Kranos cracks security for instant messaging

13 May 2004

Dublin-based Kranos Security Technologies has launched a service that uses public key encryption and digital signatures to secure instant messaging (IM) communications.

Called MessageMate, the service offers users the benefits of IM, such as real-time online conversations and remote communications, with additional layers of security.

Instant Messaging has proved popular as a personal communications medium but businesses have so far been reluctant to embrace the technology because of issues around security and compliance. Last year, some 582 billion instant messages were sent but the business market accounted for just 9pc of this total, according to figures from the Radicati Group. Meanwhile Gartner has forecast that by 2006, IM will surpass email as the preferred means of business commnuication.

In theory IM offers the prospect for businesses such as banks, building societies or insurance companies to stay in close contact with remote employees, customers, suppliers and partners. “If these institutions can message securely, there’s a potential conduit for driving business through brokers,” said Kranos CEO Terry Wymer. The company plans to sell the service to Irish and international organisations.

According to Wymer, security for IM services has traditionally been provided on-the-wire, which means that some of the conversation between two users is decrypted and could be open to being intercepted – a potential weakness. MessageMate secures IM communications from end-to-end using public key encryption. Messages can also be digitally signed, which offers authenticity, non-repudiation and integrity, Wymer pointed out.

The need for more secure communications comes from an environment of greater legislative compliance for businesses. Acts such as Sarbanes-Oxley in the US put the onus on organisations to store and transmit information securely.

MessageMate has been in development for more than two years. It uses technology licenced from Hush Communications, a specialist provider of email security systems. The MessageMate desktop client also includes standard features such as server stored address books, choice of online states, printing and saving of conversations. Customer sites can pay for subscription-based service on a per-user basis. If they require, organisations can also choose to host the IM chat server internally on their own systems. For those that prefer to outsource the service, the encryption can then be handled remotely from servers at Kranos’ hosting facility.

By Gordon Smith