Dear Ashley Madison Users: The Internet Is Real Life!
After hackers expose cheaters, AshleyMadison hookup site offers ‘full delete’ option.
Turns out the extramarital affairs site, which bills itself as the “world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters,” had leaky lips anyway.
A dating website that boasts more than 16 million members is the latest victim of hacking, potentially releasing private information, the site’s parent company said Monday.Digital extortionists are holding the sexual profiles of potentially 37 million adulterers hostage after a breach of infidelity website AshleyMadison.com.Data stolen by hackers from AshleyMadison.com, the online cheating site that claims 37 million users, has been posted online, according to Krebs on Security, the authoritative Web site that monitors hacking across the globe.
In a ransom message published on the site’s homepage today, the hackers threaten to publish reams of private information unless AshleyMadison.com and its peer site, EstablishedMen.com, are taken offline. The breach was confirmed in a statement from Avid Life Media Inc., which owns AshleyMadison. “We apologize for this unprovoked and criminal intrusion into our customers’ information.” On Monday, the company said it would offer all users the ability to fully delete their personal information from the site — an option that was previously only available for a fee. Among that information, the message states, are “all customer records” including “real names and addresses.” Which got me thinking about the tortured logistics of cheating. TORONTO — A Canadian-owned website for people seeking affairs was recovering from a cyberattack Monday after hackers stole confidential customer information, posted some of it online and threatened to publish all of it unless the company is shut down.
Troy Hunt, a developer who specializes in security and who runs the site “Have I Been Pwned?”, revealed a flaw affecting the site in a blog post on Monday. Putting aside the issue of doing it in the first place, many of the men and women who use AshleyMadison were apparently unaware—or didn’t care—that most websites now take every scrap of data they can and assemble highly detailed profiles of their users. Addressing speculation that “paid-delete” customers had been caught up in the hack, the company noted that they are confident that it “does in fact remove all information related to a member’s profile and communications activity.” AshleyMadison is an unusual and apparently very popular dating Web site for those seeking extramarital relations.
The weakness, easily exploited, gave away whether an email address was contained in the site’s database or not; from there, one could infer who may have registered an account on the site. Brian Krebs, the blogger who first reported the breach, said the hackers were threatening to release all Ashley Madison’s customer records if the website isn’t shut down, CNN.com reported. In this case, millions of people who were stepping out on their spouses—and hoping and praying today that the hackers don’t dump their philandering secrets online—are discovering a serious breakdown in their operational security: They used personal credit cards to pay for the service. It gains attention by, among other things, wrapping itself in a social science mantle and publishing data about the frequency and location of cheaters across America, for anyone who happens to be interested, without, of course, mentioning any names. Most people don’t think about it when they swipe a credit card or give the number to an online retailer, but the transaction actually reveals quite a bit about you.
Tech news site arstechnica.com dug a little further in the summer of 2014 and found Ashley Madison actually allows users to trash their profile for free, but that the “full delete” option removes all traces of an account — including messages and photos sent to other users, which would have otherwise lived on. Here’s how it worked: If you had submitted the email address of a registered account through that form, the request would trigger a certain message. Any and all parties responsible for this act of cyber–terrorism will be held responsible.” “Using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), our team has now successfully removed the posts related to this incident as well as all Personally Identifiable Information (PII) about our users published online,” the company statement continued.
The website is offering its members the opportunity to delete their profiles and all personal information free of charge in light of the potential privacy breech. In the AshleyMadison hack, those responsible are threatening to expose data that include payment information linked to painfully sensitive details from users’ profiles. And it was impossible to actually find “The Impact Team’s” revelations on the Internet early Monday morning, just hours after Krebs broke the story. The invalid email address message contains a text box and a “send” button: “[H]ere’s the the lesson for anyone creating accounts on websites: always assume the presence of your account is discoverable,” said Hunt.
And despite the site’s assurances about privacy and discretion—including about how charges will show up on customers’ bills—it’s of little use if the data are linked on the backend in a way that hackers or malicious insiders can steal and leverage. For those seriously concerned about online privacy—such as human rights activists, whistleblowers, and journalists—such tools as prepaid debit cards, encrypted e-mail, and anonymous browsing technologies are the coin of the realm. Many philanderers using AshleyMadison’s services, who presumably took extraordinary steps to hide affairs from their partners, appear to have missed that memo. We have always had the confidentiality of our customers’ information foremost in our minds and are pleased that the provisions included in the DMCA have been effective in addressing this matter.”
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