How about a quick quiz: Who stands to profit most from the hypergrowth in instant messaging (IM)?

1. AOL, because it has to make money at something.

2.Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), because it makes money on everything.

3.Symantec (NASDAQ:SYMC), and similar security firms, because IM has more holes than Swiss cheese and bad guys are taking advantage of them.

Sadly, Fools, the answer is 3, although a good argument might be made for 1 or 2. IMlogic Threat Center research reveals that attacks made through IM -- including viruses, worms, spim, and phishing schemes -- increased 250% over last year during the first quarter of 2005, reports. IMlogic, itself a maker of security software, also says reports of new IM attacks are up a breathtaking 271% this year.

No wonder IMlogic put out this report. Not only does it make good press, but it also makes a good case for the company's products. IMlogic isn't public. However, Symantec and rival McAfee (NYSE:MFE) are, and they may be able to seize outsized profits by locking down corporate IM networks.

Consider: There are roughly 100 million IM users today, and estimates peg the market at closer to 200 million in two years. Let's say users will pay $12 each -- or $1 a month -- for a few extra bells and whistles to keep the bad guys out. That suddenly creates a market that could be $600 million to $1.2 billion, and that's assuming zero growth in the subscriber base.

If the Rule Breaker investor in you salivates at that possibility, consider first that IM is typically free and no one has shown an ability to get users to pay for anything even remotely related to the messaging business, with the notable exception of mobile IM. But if these threats persist, a market will emerge out of necessity, especially as corporations adopt IM in greater numbers. What remains unknown is which firm will emerge to take advantage. Rule Breakers will be watching to find out.

For related Foolishness:

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a certified IM junkie. Want to use IM, but don't know where to start? Get help from other Fools at the Help with this STUPID computer! discussion board. Tim didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story at the time of publication. You can find out what's in Tim's portfolio by checking his Fool profile, which is here. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.