Instant messaging has revolutionized the way colleagues communicate, but increasing regulations and a growing number of security breaches in the medium have businesses concerned about how much sensitive information might be getting into the wrong hands.

With corporate interest in enterprise IM peaking, mostly because IM increases productivity and reduces communication costs, moves to secure those networks have accelerated amid growing regulatory requirements and general concerns that public IM networks are unsafe for businesses.

"Secure IM for business is important because people don't want their corporate secrets leaking out via IM," Graham Lawlor, chairman of the New York-based Financial Instant Messaging Association (FIMA).

On Tuesday, Lawlor's group hosted a Public IM and Gateway Roundtable discussion at the UBS Warburg headquarters in New York. The conference brought together the three largest gateway vendors -- FaceTime, IM Logic and Akonix -- with public IM vendors America Online and Microsoft .

The forum also included financial service representatives whose increasing reliance on the technology gives them a high stake at the IM table.

"There are all kinds of changes going on," Lawlor, who is also the program manager of IM at Deutsche Bank AG in New York, said. One particular change he mentioned was Microsoft's announcement in October to offer a unified communications experience.

As previously report by internetnews.com, Microsoft's Live Communications Server 2005 (LCS), which offers expanded instant messaging compatibility with popular IM software, has enterprise IM users and vendors looking for new opportunities for more secure messaging at work.

Lawlor called the new interoperability delivered by LCS 2005 a "catalytic event in the industry" and said other major enterprise products are going to have to follow suite.

Many these changes are a result of legal and compliance issues brought about by employees using both enterprise and consumer IM software. The recent Sarbanes-Oxley legislation requires secure, auditable electronic communications for companies, including instant messages.

One way to manage increased reliance on IM is through the use of "gateways," which archive, filter and control messages to and from public IM networks. The public networks include AOL's AIM, Microsoft's MSN and Yahoo's Messenger.

California-based FaceTime, the largest gateway provider, helps secure consumer IM and disable P2P network activity, according to FaceTime CTO and vice president of products Jonathan Christensen.

"With a solution in place, users can continue to benefit from consumer IM products," Christensen, said. FaceTime recently announced it released an enterprise edition for Microsoft's LCS. "It allows clients and partners outside your organization to communicate without exposing your corporate network to added risks," he said.

FIMA was created in 2002 to pressure vendors into standardizing IM software for compatibility, security and other business IT needs, according to the organization. It includes representatives from Bank of America, Citigroup, Credit Suisse First Boston, Deutsche Bank, J.P. Morgan Chase, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Prudential and UBS Warburg.