Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Does installing a chat program pose any additional risks?


My 14year-old daughter wants to install an MSN chat program on my
computer. Does this pose an additional risk for viruses and/or crashes
to my computer? I need my computer for work and can’t afford any of
those problems.

Yes and no.

In the proper hands, with the requisite amount of common sense and
awareness a chat program need be no more dangerous than any other
program you install. But naturally in the wrong hands it does open some
additional windows of malicious opportunity.

I guess it kind of boils down to this: how much do you trust your
daughter to be safe?

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

The biggest additional risk that IM and Chat programs bring with
them is that they typically include the ability to transfer files. So
let’s say you’re chatting with someone and they want to send you a
picture. Rather than having to use some other means, like perhaps
email, to transfer the image, they just send it to you – right then and
there – using the chat program.

“The risk boils down to exactly the same risk as
you might expect from emailed attachments …”

It’s pretty handy.

If, in fact, it’s an image.

The risk boils down to exactly the same risk as you might expect
from emailed attachments: any time you accept a file from someone and
you’re not positive that the file is what it claims to be, you run the
risk that it’s a virus or other form of malware.

So, depending on who your daughter is chatting with, depending on
her own awareness when it comes to internet security, and depending a
little on the other security aspects you might or might not have set up
on your computer, it could be a huge risk.

Or no risk at all.

So, assuming you trust her and her abilities, I’d probably go for

But if there’s any hesitation in your mind at all, then I’d look
into some alternatives.

Naturally, her own machine would be the ideal (in her eyes, I’m
certain, as well). It doesn’t have to be super new and powerful, it
certainly doesn’t take a lot of horsepower to chat.

Another alternative might be to set up a virtual machine on your own
machine – a sort of “windows running within windows” scenario, which
can protect your machine to a large degree. This solution ends up
depending more on your own expertise at setting up a virtual machine
(using products like Parallels or VMWare) would be something you’d need
to do. The result would be that the chat program would run on a copy of
Windows (or even another OS) that’s running separately, within its own
protected environment, on your machine running Windows.

But ultimately, the risk isn’t as much with the technology itself,
but how it’s used. And that’s something that you’ll have to judge.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

3 comments on “Does installing a chat program pose any additional risks?”

  1. I use avast! antivirus home (freeware) and it constantly monitors my msn, scanning chats and all files i recieve. also there are options in msn to disable file sharing (at leas the sharing folders option).

    also there are other more basic chat programs that can still use the msn network such as Miranda, Trillian and aMSN which may prove less of a threat since they are not exactly the same as MSN (which i’d assume most viruses would be based on)

    also a good firewall should let you configure certain aspects of the program, limiting its internet activity.

    hope this helps.

  2. I have been using MSN chat for ages and never gave me a problem to be honest. Recently created a Malta chat on my blog too. On my PC at home have installed AVG free and Spybot and it seems I’m well protected.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.