Ashley Madison Hack Raises Questions About Online Security and Privacy

By Kimberlee Morrison Comment

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With continued data insecurity, it seems like there’s a new hack every week. The Ashley Madison hack, which has been in the news for over a month, seems to have many different facets. The hackers want to shut the site down over allegations of human trafficking, and users just want their privacy protected.

So far the hackers allegedly behind the breach, “The Impact Team,” have released details from millions of user accounts, internal company emails, as well as technical details about the infrastructure of Ashley Madison and other sites in the Avid Life Media Network. Joseph Cox, a contributor to Vice’s Motherboard, interviewed a member of The Impact Team, to discuss their motivations and findings:

We were in Avid Life Media a long time to understand and get everything. Finally we watched Ashley Madison signups growing and human trafficking on the sites. Everyone is saying 37 million! Blackmail users! We didn’t blackmail users. Avid Life Media blackmailed them. But any hacking team could have. We did it to stop the next 60 million. Avid Life Media is like a drug dealer abusing addicts.

The individual also claimed that security at Ashley Madison was incredibly weak, and alleged that because user profiles are not actually deleted when users think they are (among other issues), Ashley Madison is guilty of perpetrating fraud upon its users.

Executive emails obtained by Motherboard from the dark web, seem to show that Ashley Madison’s staff knew that security was incredibly weak, but apparently did very little to improve the systems. Despite information in those emails that shows Ashley Madison wanted to avoid a publicized data leak, inaction on their part has caused this hack to spiral out of control.

Ashley Madison has offered a $379,000 bounty for information relating to the hackers, and Toronto Police have announced unconfirmed reports that several suicides could be related to the data breach. Avid Life Media has also issued DMCA takedown notices in an attempt to control the spread of the data.

The hack has also stirred a lot of conversation about privacy online. Nick Mokey, a contributor to Digital Trends, pointed out that while many are celebrating this as a kind of justice for cheaters, our data could be in the next leak, and we should support privacy rights in all forms. The hack has also started a debate about the use of DMCA notices.

On the upside, this hack has exposed many users to the weakness of many online security systems. There are many who wouldn’t give a second thought to how protected their data was, and perhaps now they’ll pause for thought before agreeing to a ToS, even if they aren’t Ashley Madison users. That said, many users believe their data gets less secure every year, and sadly they may be right if online providers continue to operate with poor systems in place.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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