The world of cyber crime got decidedly more salacious last month when Ashley Madison, a website that helps people arrange infidelity, was hacked. Now it seems the virtual thieves have made good on their threat to spill the data if the site wasn’t shut down.
Almost 10 gigabytes of data was uploaded to the so-called ‘dark net’, including names, emails, addresses and log-in details for around 32 million users. Around 15,000 US government or military emails were part of the dump, according to tech site Wired.
Some users may well be thanking their cheating stars they didn’t use their real details. For example, the site doesn’t require email addresses to be validated – hence the apparent use of ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’, which isn’t even a real domain. Nonetheless, for many on the site this will destroy once and for all what they thought was a foolproof way to arrange a secret affair.
Avid Life Media, the company behind Ashley Madison and fellow hacked site Established Men (for young women who want to find rich ‘sugar daddies’ to ‘fulfill their lifestyle needs’), said it was working with the Canadian police and FBI to track down the cyber criminals. It also did its best to claim the moral high ground.
The hackers ‘have appointed themselves as the moral judge, juror, and executioner, seeing fit to impose a personal notion of virtue on all of society,’ the Toronto-based firm said in a statement. ‘We will not sit idly by and allow these thieves to force their personal ideology on citizens around the world.’
Whether people are convinced ALM and its users are the victims here isn’t really the point, though. The whole concept of Ashley Madison was that it made it easier for people to engage in conduct that normal society doesn’t consider morally acceptable, not changing the mainstream view of said conduct.
And it was making pretty good business out of it too: ALM’s revenues were $115m (£73m) in 2014, according to Bloomberg. It was even looking into a $200m IPO in London earlier this year, having been spurned by upright investors in Canada.
Now its financial future doesn’t look quite so lucrative. Had ALM tracked down and foiled the hackers before they posted the stolen data online, they may have been able to re-convince a sizeable proportion of wannabe adulterers their secrecy was assured. People will always engage in infidelity, whatever the medium they arrange it through. But Ashley Madison may no longer be the go to site to set up that tryst.