Although many have likely shrugged or scoffed upon hearing news of the data dump, the ramifications of the disclosures run far deeper than just major relationship troubles. Over 10,000 of the compromised email addresses had .gov extensions with an estimated 5,000 more having .mil (military) suffixes. Adultery is punishable up to a year in prison in the military and can lead to a pension-forfeiting dishonorable discharge.
There will probably be a lot more dumping going on than just data, but the fruits of notorious cheating site Ashley Madison’s devastating hack have been unleashed upon the globe. Coming a month after the cyber theft, a group that claimed responsibility for the breach calling itself “the Impact Team” announced that it released the personal information of over 37 million Ashley Madison account holders in the dark web, which is a corner of the internet usually undetectable by search engines. Ashley Madison is owned by Avid Life Media (ALM), with the website geared toward arranging extramarital affairs under the premise of confidentiality and discretion. Needless to say, millions of cheating spouses or spouses seeking an affair are very, very nervous today. Along with Ashley Madison, ALM also owns similar sites, Established Men and Cougar Life.
Following the hack that was announced on July 15th, the Impact Team revealed the reason for the intrusion to be over the website’s “full-delete” feature, which for a $19.99 fee; Ashley Madison was supposed to have eliminated all traces of a user’s account for cases of buyer’s remorse. Instead, the hacker(s) wrote, “Full Delete netted ALM $1.7mm in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie,” the Impact Team wrote after the hack last month. “Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real name and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed.” They also threatened to disclose the compromised data at the time if ALM did not take Ashley Madison and Established Men down. After ALM failed to comply, the Impact team released nearly 10 gigabytes of compressed data Tuesday evening, a huge amount.
The Impact Team wrote a long statement to accompany the released data, which contained email addresses, IP addresses, the last four numbers of customers’ debit and credit cards, along with addresses and other contact information. In the statement, the Impact Team wrote that “Avid Life Media has failed to take down Ashley Madison and Established Men. We have explained the fraud, deceit, and stupidity of ALM and their members. Now everyone gets to see their data. Find someone you know in here?” The hackers also referenced litigation pending against the website for creating fake female profiles, and added “See Ashley Madison fake profile lawsuit; 90-95% of actual users are male. Chances are your man signed up on the world’s biggest affair site, but never had one. He just tried to.”
Although many have likely shrugged or scoffed upon hearing news of the data dump, the ramifications of the disclosures run far deeper than just major relationship troubles. Over 10,000 of the compromised email addresses had .gov extensions with an estimated 5,000 more having .mil (military) suffixes. Adultery is punishable up to a year in prison in the military and can lead to a pension-forfeiting dishonorable discharge. Additionally, the national and international ramifications of such a potentially widespread political scandal could cripple governments worldwide. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s email account was among those discovered, although Ashley Madison does not verify email addresses. Technically, anybody could have used the address. Still, the disclosure should be chilling even for those who might not have been involved with the site. MSNBC’s Chris Hayes looked at the hack in a larger perspective, tweeting “Forget Ashley Madison, for a moment, and replace it with: medical records. Your full income tax returns. Your inbox.”
In ALM’s interpretation, the hack is a serious criminal incident. Writing in a statement on its website, the company said, “This event is not an act of hacktivism, it is an act of criminality.” The company continued, “It is an illegal action against the individual members of AshleyMadison.com, as well as any freethinking people who choose to engage in fully lawful online activities. The criminal, or criminals, involved in this act have appointed themselves as the moral judge, juror, and executioner, seeing fit to impose a personal notion of virtue on all of society.” Although Ashley Madison’s chief technical officer Raja Bhatia told tech blogger Brian Krebs in an interview that there is no evidence that the data dump was credible, Krebs has written that several account holders have confirmed to him that they have discovered their information online. Last month, ALM CEO Noel Biderman told Krebs that at least one person responsible for the hack “was definitely a person here that was not an employee but certainly had touched our technical services.”
A hack of this nature, much like both the Edward Snowden leaks and the Wikileaks disclosures in recent years, raises questions about the ethics involved with such data breaches. The Impact Team’s taunt of “Too bad for those men, they’re cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion…Too bad for ALM, you promised secrecy but didn’t deliver,” may resonate for many, but it opens a Pandora’s Box regarding internet privacy. Cybersecurity expert Graham Clulely wrote that the leak could even lead some people to suicide, writing in his blog “What the howling wolves doesn’t (sic) seem to understand is what they are doing is online bullying. The kind of bullying that clearly can cause such personal tragedies.” Many on social media channels Tuesday night criticized the hackers for invading the private lives of millions people. As AWL’s John Herrman tweeted, I’m not sure anyone is really reckoning with how big this could be, yet. If the data becomes as public and available as seems likely right now, we’re talking about tens of millions of people who will be publicly confronted with choices they thought they made in private.”
ABC News – Alyssa Newcomb
The Daily Beast – Marlow Stern
Washington Post – Michael E. Miller