Sifting through the wreckage of the Ashley Madison hack

Stan Ward

Stan Ward

August 25, 2015

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.


Stan Ward

Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

4 responses to “Sifting through the wreckage of the Ashley Madison hack

  1. I submitted a sober, well-written response to this article several days ago that, when submitted, was not posted “pending approval.” At the time I assumed that this was simply SOP to weed out profanity, etc. However, given the amount of time having elapsed since my submission and its failure to appear I can only assume that it was disapproved and, given that the only aspect of my comment that could possibly have garnered disapproval was its diametric disagreement with Mr. Ward’s sentiments regarding those poor cheaters “hurt” by the AM hack, one wonders whether or not you simply only approve those responses that you agree with and quash those you don’t like. So much for an open forum/discussion, huh guys?

    1. Hi Gregg,

      I am the BestVPN staff member responsible for approving and responding to comments made on this website, but I have been away on extended leave these last 5 weeks. This has led to some delays in handling comments, and I am still working through the backlog. Let me stress that other than when dealing with thew most flagrant and obnoxious forms of abuse and bigotry, BestVPN does not believe in censoring open discussion.

  2. I Have precisely ZERO sympathy for any suicides perpetrated by unfaithful spouses in the wake of this disclosure, they’ve simply compounded stupidity, selfishness, and cruelty with cowardice and the gene pool is better off without them. Good riddance. And yes: “You play with fire you’re bound to get burned.” If this article was even in part aimed at generating pity for those Ashley Madison members, those poor, poor cheaters “hurt” by this turn of events, uhh… you missed this reader by a mile Stan.

    1. Hi Gregg,

      Everyone is entitled to their own view, and perhaps when it comes to the unfaithful spouses themselves it is difficult to feel sympathy for them. However, when you start to consider the loss felt, for example, by a child whose father commits suicide thanks to the hack, the human cost of the hackers’ actions becomes clearer. The (would be) unfaithful spouses are not the only victims here… (just my 2 cents worth).

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