BlowSearch is to tap into the growing demand for instant messaging service by launching an IM service that offers different levels of encryption.

BlowSearch Secured Messenger, which is scheduled to be launched early next month, also lets users aggregate into its interface buddy lists from the four main public IM services: America Online's AIM and ICQ, Yahoo's Yahoo Messenger and Microsoft's MSN Messenger.

For a quarterly fee of US$9.95, BlowSearch Secured Messenger users get 4096-bit encryption, the service's highest level, which the company brands as "gold." Below this is the "silver" level, which offers 256-bit encryption for $7.95 per quarter and the "bronze" level, which offers 56-bit encryption for $2.95 per quarter. All three levels include customer support. There is also the option of using the service for free, which also features 56-bit encryption, includes ads and offers no customer support.

BlowSearch Secured Messenger users can communicate with their buddies on AIM, ICQ, Yahoo Messenger and MSN Messenger, but for the IM communications to be encrypted, both parties have to be using the BlowSearch service.

The company initially will target individual users who want to protect the privacy of their IM communications, and, after doing some further development to the product, the company will also pitch BlowSearch Secured Messenger to government agencies and corporations, said Richard Kahn, the company's chief operating officer. "We provide enterprise-level IM security" over the public IM networks, Kahn said.

Demand for strong encryption in IM is rising, particularly in the workplace, said Michael Osterman, president of industry analysis company Osterman Research.

"It's actually a fairly important requirement and one that will be gaining in importance," Osterman said. "One of the major failings of consumer IM in the workplace is that it doesn't provide native encryption. This is about securing the information that's leaving the enterprise in an IM session."

Demand isn't as high among individuals in the mass market, but there could be specific applications in this segment, such as a bank extending the BlowSearch Secured Messenger to clients so they can conduct secure IM sessions with the bank's call centre staffers, Osterman said.

However, BlowSearch Secured Messenger can be used on PCs running Windows and also requires Internet Explorer as the browser.