About Us | Contact Us
View Cart

Using Instant Messaging and Chat Rooms Safely

By Dan Hadaway | Monday, September 28, 2009 - Leave a Comment

Although instant messaging services and chat rooms offer a convenient way to communicate with other people, there are dangers associated with tools that allow real-time communication.

What are the differences between some of the tools used for real-time communication

  • Instant messaging (IM) – Commonly used for recreation, instant messaging is also becoming more widely used within corporations for communication between employees. IM, regardless of the specific software you choose, provides an interface for individuals to communicate one-on-one.
  • Chat rooms – Whether public or private, chat rooms are forums for particular groups of people to interact. Many chat rooms are based upon a shared characteristic; for example, there are chat rooms for people of particular age groups or interests. Although most IM clients support “chats” among multiple users, IM is traditionally one-to-one while chats are traditionally many-to-many.
  • Bots – A “chat robot,” or “bot,” is software that can interact with users through chat mechanisms, whether in IM or chat rooms. In some cases, users may be able to obtain current weather reports, stock status, or movie listings. In these instances, users are often aware that they are not interacting with an actual human. However, some users may be fooled by more sophisticated bots into thinking the responses they are receiving are from another person.

There are many software packages that incorporate one or more of these capabilities. A number of different technologies might be supported, including IM, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), or Jabber.

What are the dangers?

  • Identities can be elusive or ambiguous – Not only is it sometimes difficult to identify whether the “person” you are talking to is human, but human nature and behavior isn’t predictable. People may lie about their identity, accounts may be compromised, users may forget to log out, or an account may be shared by multiple people. All of these things make it difficult to know who you’re really talking to during a conversation.
  • Users are especially susceptible to certain types of attack – Trying to convince someone to run a program or click on a link is a common attack method, but it can be especially effective through IM and chat rooms. In a setting where a user feels comfortable with the “person” he or she is talking to, a malicious piece of software or an attacker has a better chance of convincing someone to fall into the trap.
  • You don’t know who else might be seeing the conversation – Online interactions are easily saved, and if you’re using a free commercial service the exchanges may be archived on a server. You have no control over what happens to those logs. You also don’t know if there’s someone looking over the shoulder of the person you’re talking to, or if an attacker might be “sniffing” your conversation.
  • The software you’re using may contain vulnerabilities – Like any other software, chat software may have vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.
  • Default security settings may be inappropriate – The default security settings in chat software tend to be relatively permissive to make it more open and “usable,” and this can make you more susceptible to attacks.

How can you use these tools safely?

  • Evaluate your security settings – Check the default settings in your software and adjust them if they are too permissive. Make sure to disable automatic downloads. Some chat software offers the ability to limit interactions to only certain users, and you may want to take advantage of these restrictions.
  • Be conscious of what information you reveal – Be wary of revealing personal information unless you know who you are really talking to. You should also be careful about discussing anything you or your employer might consider sensitive business information over public IM or chat services (even if you are talking to someone you know in a one-to-one conversation).
      Note: Don’t put nonpublic information in IMs or chat rooms! This includes Social Security Numbers, EINs, account numbers, etc.
  • Try to verify the identity of the person you are talking to, if it matters – In some forums and situations, the identity of the “person” you are talking to may not matter. However, if you need to have a degree of trust in that person, either because you are sharing certain types of information or being asked to take some action like following a link or running a program, make sure the “person” you are talking to is actually that person.
  • Don’t believe everything you read – The information or advice you receive in a chat room or by IM may be false or, worse, malicious. Try to verify the information or instructions from outside sources before taking any action.
  • Keep software up to date – This includes the chat software, your browser, your operating system, your mail client, and, especially, your anti-virus software.

Note: This article was produced by Mindi McDowell and Allen Householder and copyrighted by the US-CERT. This article was used with permission as stated in Terms of Use, Copyright Permission.

The United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) is a partnership between the Department of Homeland Security and the public and private sectors. Established in 2003 to protect the nation’s Internet infrastructure, US-CERT coordinates defense against and responses to cyber attacks across the nation.


 

Latest News
    A Webinar Movie This presentation is intended for those who are planning to participate in an infotex incident response test. Please let us know what questions you have, when we have our Plan Walkthrough and Test Plan Approval meeting!
    What you need to know for compliance coast-to-coast. Back in 2020 we posted an article containing links to data breach laws from each state, and it has proven to be one of our more popular posts.  Because laws surrounding the use (and abuse) of technology are always evolving, we thought it was worth taking another […]
    Another awareness poster for YOUR customers (and users).  Now that we have our own employees aware, maybe it’s time to start posting content for our customers! In the spirit of October and Halloween we have put together a gallery of our “spooky” Awareness Posters at halloween.infotex.com. Use them to help decorate for the holiday! Check […]
    With nearly three in four people using third-party payment services tied to their bank accounts, the risk isn’t limited to your own policies and procedures… An article review. When working on cybersecurity awareness messages for your customers you may be inclined to focus on your own systems, but a new study on security in digital […]
    PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE BUSINESS NEWS NEW EMPLOYEE FOR INFOTEX infotex is excited to announce that Cody Smith has joined the team as the newest Data Security Analyst. Cody holds several industry certifications (including the most recent: SSCP) as well as a B.S in Cyber Security & Information Assurance from Western Governors University. […]
    It’s all about protecting Customer information . . . In 1999 the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) directed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and other federal banking agencies to ensure that financial institutions have policies, procedures, and controls in place to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of customer financial information.  The FDIC and other federal banking agencies […]
    A Ghoulish Gallery! Just a few scary-themed Awareness posters from our collection, which you can see at posters.infotex.com! Below you will find both the vertical and horizontal versions of each of the posters, all you need to do is “right-click > “Save link as…” to download! Vertical 8.5″ x 11″ Format   Horizontal 11″ x […]
    What to Expect in an Annual Information Security Report to the Board Webinar-Movie Information security ranks as a top risk to financial institutions, both in terms of likelihood and overall impact. It is important that boards receive annual comprehensive reporting from management about the information security risks and incidents, and the actions taken to address […]
    Another awareness poster for YOUR customers (and users).  Now that we have our own employees aware, maybe it’s time to start posting content for our customers! Check out posters.infotex.com for the whole collection! Download the large versions here: Awareness Poster (Portrait) Awareness Poster (Landscape)   You are welcome to print out and distribute this around […]
    With the potential to break all existing forms of encryption, quantum computing poses a unique challenge… An article review. While quantum computing has been a buzzword for some time now the technology remains largely theoretical, with small scale proofs-of-concept that still suffer from serious limitations.  That hasn’t stopped security researchers from worrying about the technology’s […]