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Instant Messaging

Instant messaging (IM) allows you to ‘chat’ in real time over the internet in a similar way to mobile phone text messages. Advanced systems allow webcam and voice communication. The main systems are: Facebook Messenger, Windows Live Messenger (formerly MSN) and Yahoo! Messenger. Instant messaging can be great for staying in touch with friends but, like email, it carries risks.

The Risks

  • People online are not necessarily who they say they are or seem to be.
  • Eavesdropping on your conversations. There is no guarantee of privacy as conversations are not encrypted and can be saved for use offline.
  • IM software may be vulnerable to virus or other attack.
  • Online chat rooms – accessible through instant messaging – can be undesirable places.

Use Instant Messaging Safely

  • Never give out passwords, credit card information or other private data.
  • Block strangers. If your software allows it, set up the system so that only people on your ‘allow’ list can contact you.
  • Be very wary of disclosing any private information to a stranger you meet via instant messaging. Even apparently innocent information like the name of your employer can be used against you by fraudsters.
  • Never click on links that you receive through instant messaging from people that you do not know and trust, and that you have never met in real life.
  • Leave your online profile blank, or where you have to enter data to use the system, enter fictitious data.
  • Do not use your system or email password to log on to an IM system.
  • IM is not encrypted, so do not use it to transmit information such as credit card numbers or other sensitive information.
  • Disable automatic downloads.
  • Verify information you receive on IM elsewhere. In particular, check any security ‘advice’ you get.
  • Keep your IM software up to date.
  • Do not let children use instant messaging chat rooms unsupervised.



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  • Never disclose private information when instant messaging.
  • Be wary about who you are ‘chatting’ to online.

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