As with all privacy breaches there are multiple victims here. The customers whose personal data has been leaked, as well as the company trusted to keep it secure; a trust that may never be regained.
However, what makes this case highly significant is the collateral damage that will likely spread beyond just the direct privacy breach. Family ‘secrets’ are revealed and victims are ‘ousted’ – seemingly at the hands of anonymous hackers with a point to prove.
Another oddity in this case is that AshleyMadison.com charges only men for their subscriptions and message credits, while female users are able to use the site free of charge. This has resulted in the victims consisting mostly of men, connected by way of their credit card transaction histories, causing an asymmetry rarely seen in data breaches made public.
While the hackers have released the data in what could best be described as a harsh and judgmental way, they do offer some clues about how trustworthy the data may or may not be, “Find someone you know in here? Keep in mind the site is a scam with thousands of fake female profiles.”
On that note, remember that the information obtained and released by hackers in data breaches by their very definition is never verified by the companies who are breached, and so this brings into question the integrity of all the data, regardless of how authentic it might seem. For example, there may be deliberately false information inserted by the hackers designed to damage reputations or serve another agenda.
Accordingly, as already reported the hackers also provided this disclaimer of sorts, “Chances are your man signed up on the world’s biggest affair site, but never had one.” In short, make sure you have all the facts before a potentially dangerous and damaging real-life Internet hoax unfolds in your own backyard.
Here’s a summary of the exact data that was breached:
- Full names and addresses
- Email addresses
- Credit card transactions
- GPS Coordinates
- User Names & Passwords
- Sexual Preference
- Height, Weight, physical characteristics
- Smoking and drinking habits
Lastly, while it may be easy to fall into the trap of victim-blaming and judging based on your own set of moral or ethical standards in this case – as social media opinions begin to rush forth in the coming days and beyond, it’s important to keep sight of the broader picture of what is transpiring.
Today’s breach may well affect nearly 30 million victims, and maybe you don’t know any of them… this time. Next time, in another context, it could be you.
In the meantime, let’s hope that the active investigation into the perpetrators behind this hack are brought to justice, because as the statement from Avid Life Media rightly asserts, this is an act of criminality.
Until next time, stay safe out there.