Say or think what you want about the Ashley Madison hack but it is first and foremost an invasion of privacy and a crime. And as such, there are victims already amid the tawdry fallout and questions. Like who’s the next target of some moral avengers? A $400,000 reward has been offered for information which will bring the hackers to light. It will be interesting to see if this is enough of an incentive to lure someone from the dark depths of hacking to rat-out a colleague.
At first glance the public reaction to the hack may be ’’ho-hum, play with fire you’re bound to get burned.” And one has to wonder if the hackers, in their outrage and indignation in perpetrating the crime, ever stopped to consider the human cost of their actions. Already, possible suicides in Texas – a police captain – and one in Canada are being attributed to the disclosure of supposed confidential information. On top of that is the obligatory civil lawsuits, thus far totaling more than $500 million in potential damages. But compared to the loss of life, it is relatively insignificant.
The hack has also had a ripple effect as many websites worry about their own vulnerability. But for porn and hook-up sites, it is nothing short of terrifying. One such person in a position to know is Hustler’s Larry Flynt, a long-time purveyor of porn, protector of free speech and veteran of myriad court battles. “Don’t do or say anything you wouldn’t want to read about on the front page of the New York Times,” said the founder of Hustler magazine and owner of businesses that sell sexually explicit videos online.
For some, the advice is too little, too late as the cloak of anonymity has been shredded, revealing the most secret desires, fantasies and fetishes of as many as 37 million users. In the process, it has shattered many preconceived notions about Internet security and data protection and struck fear in the hearts of users as no other previous hack has. Nothing quite stirs the emotions as infidelity and for many in corporations, but especially in the government and military it might not just be the end of a romance or a marriage but the swan-song of a career and possible jail time.
The data dump made good on the hackers’ threat last month to leak customers’ nude photos, sexual fantasies, names and credit card information from the Canadian website with the slogan, “Life is short. Have an affair.” The hackers, who have not been identified, appear to bear a grudge against the company and want to undermine it by exposing users to public scrutiny. And while the non-financial aspect of the assault is especially worrying to owners of other sites, already the Internet has been flooded by devious opportunists who are sending blackmail letters to outed customers of Ashley Madison. And one can only imagine the damage financial damage that is in store when disclosed credit card information is criminally co-opted down the road.
The AM attack is the second high- profile attack against a firm in that industry. In March, Adult FriendFinder was the victim of a massive data breach with some 4 million subscribers details divulged to the public. Compared to Ashley Madison, it is small potatoes. For cyber security firms, however, the hack of AM is welcome news to an industry already bustling from breaches worldwide across all spectrums.
For the online sex industry, the AM breach represents their worst nightmare- a moral vigilante cyber attack with no apparent strings attached- in an industry that touted its information security as a certainty. But they feel naked and exposed now as collectively they wait for the other shoe to drop. But with the hack fresh in people’s mind, they will be more reluctant to disclose personal information even on legitimate sites to the detriment of the general Internet user. One thing is for sure- the fallout is far from over. Stay tuned.