Engineers at NTT Communications have developed a secure instant-messaging system that supports logging and archiving of messages and that can interact with some third-party IM networks.

The system, which is expected to go on sale in Japan and overseas sometime in the year from April, has at its heart an IM server through which all communication passes.

Links between the server and IM clients use Transport Layer Security (TLS) to guard against eavesdropping or spoofing and the server can archive copies of all messages to satisfy provisions of compliance regulations, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, said Hiromichi Kasahara, a senior manager at NTT Communications' IP architecture centre..

This differs from typical systems in which an IM server is used to establish the connection and then subsequent communications pass direct from client to client.

The use of a central server also allows for the setting of local policies on such issues as which users can contact which other users or the types of files that can be transferred.

Client software for the system comes in three variants: a Windows client for desktop PCs, a Java iAppli client for cell phones that support NTT DoCoMo's I-mode system and a Web interface for other cell phones. The system can simultaneously connect to IPv4 and IPv6 networks and offer instant messaging between the two.

Additionally the system can act as a gateway to other instant messaging networks, such as AOL, Yahoo or MSN, although this requires a contract between the enterprise using the system and the network operators. In such a case communications isn't secure when it leaves the corporate network but is still logged and archived when it passes through the server, said Kasahara.

NTT Communications plans to offer the system for use on corporate servers or as a hosted service through its Verio unit.

A trial of the system began in mid-December at Philippine Long Distance Telephone's ePLDT unit. It's being used internally for functions such as allowing staff to exchange information with one another while they are taking calls, said Ashir Ahmed, a manager at NTT Communications' IP architecture centre. The trial is scheduled to end in March, he said.