Symantec’s MessageLabs division has launched what it says is a way for businesses to use instant messaging (IM) without having to take security risks or leave messaging unaudited.

MessageLabs Instant Messaging Security Service (IMSS) is designed to let businesses that have already committed to a particular public IM service to run the traffic through the company’s hosted filtering. All traffic is looked at to detect malware, unauthorised URLs, and control of the applications launched by IM but importantly, it also allows messages to be archived for compliance purposes.

Users can’t by pass the service because it also involves setting up rules at the firewall end, the one aspect that would involve extra work for admins.

The IMSS is distinct from the company’s established Enterprise IM security service, which requires that companies abandon public services and use the proprietary Omnipod Professional Online Desktop (POD) client in a walled garden approach, not something every business wants to do, the company now acknowledges.

“It’s aimed at people who already have an IM service in place and want to lock the service down,” said Paul Wood of MessageLabs.

The quandary for businesses had always been that IM was a powerful application for business use but remained blocked by a majority of companies because of uncertainty about letting employees log on to public servers without oversight.

As Wood’s colleague at Symantec’s Software as a Service (SaaS) group,  Adrian Chamberlain, put it, “[IM is] more immediate than email, more versatile than the telephone, organisations are increasingly forgetting Instant Messaging’s legacy as a consumer tool and accept it and its benefits as a credible business tool.”

But businesses did not necessarily want to have to use a new piece of software to access such a simple service, which made proxied hosting attractive.

The company was not able to provide pricing details at press time, but indicated that this would be in line with its current IM hosting prices. That currently costs in the region of £12 (plus VAT) per user, per year.