Last month we reported that AshleyMadison.com, a site for extramarital affairs, was hacked and personal data from over 42 million users was stolen. The hackers threatened to expose these users if the site wasn’t taken off the web.
Avid Life Media, the company behind AshleyMadison.com, refused to give in to the demands and kept the website online, promising their users that they had increased security.
Now it seems that the hackers have gone through with their threat: 9.7 gigabytes of data were posted online, which include credit card payment details, addresses, names phone numbers, e-mail addresses and even sexual preferences. While some of the names and addresses that users provided themselves will certainly be fake, the information connected to their credit card is probably real.
The company’s chief technology officer Raja Bhatia still maintains that the leaked data is fake, but according to several security experts, including Krebs On Security, it is legitimate.
This should be very alarming news for the users of the website. Choices and confessions that they had made in private (or so they thought) are now revealed for the whole world to see. Those that only get in trouble with their spouses may still get off easy. Others may get blackmailed or face even more serious consequences: As the Business Insider points out, adultery and homosexuality are criminal offences in some countries and Ashley Madison users from these countries may now face prosecution.
This is a severe hack and it’s unprecedented. Hacks usually affect companies only, but this will affect millions of people all over the world. Anonymous internet users are already combing through the leaked data and are publishing their finds: It seems that over 15 000 of the e-mail addresses belong to US military and government employees. The database further includes the e-mail address of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Though, according to Wired, it is entirely possible that it was merely used by someone else, as the website didn’t verify e-mail addresses.
The graphic below, made by Dadaviz shows which cities have the most Ashley Madison users: According to this especially people living in Sao Paolo, New York or Sydney are very likely to be connected to a user in one way or another.
While users on social media have been quick to point fingers and express their amusement, this is certainly no laughing matter. Instead, it is a much-needed reminder that the internet isn’t as private as we like to think and that the information that we provide might become public and even get used against us.