IMing all the way home

The Air Force is allowing airmen to use the instant messaging function of the Air Force's Web portal for three months to chat with colleagues in the Middle East and the United States. The feature also lets them talk with loved ones who used America Online Inc. and Yahoo! Inc. chat servicessaid John Gilligan, the Air Force's chief information officer.

The pilot program worked, but the Air Force uncovered some security issues. Some service Web sites did not contain adequate protection to quickly convert to war-time operations, so it moved them behind the portal, he said.

The Air Force studied the effort further and determined it needed a comprehensive security plan for instant messaging, Gilligan said. "We put some security safeguards in place that would reduce the potential vulnerability of interfacing with commercial Internet service providers...," said Col. Norris Connelly, director of systems and technology in the office of the Air Forceā‚¬s chief information officer. "We anticipate reaching resolution this fiscal year. This will fully extend the Air Force Portal's instant messaging capability to the .mil and the .com domains."

The portal uses the Enterprise Instant Messaging platform developed by Bantu Inc., located in Washington, D.C. Officials from the Army Knowledge Online and the Navy Knowledge Online portals also use the company's chat software.

Bantu deployed Enterprise Instant Messaging on the Army's portal in 2001, on Navy's portal in 2002 and the Air Force Portal later that year. The Web-based application, written in Java, lets network administrators install it on servers, which users can download from their personal computers running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows or Unix operating systems.

Officials from the 20-person company think the military's adoption of instant messaging signals greater use of computer communications. "Instant messaging is going to be one of the core functions with voice and e-mail," said Larry Schlang, Bantu's president and chief executive officer.

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