Fear haunts Ashley Madison’s users
Ashley Madison hack strikes fear in outed users.
WASHINGTON: Two years ago, trapped in what he remembers as “a dead marriage,” Michael logged on to adulterous dating site Ashley Madison for the first time.LOS ANGELES • Eight people across the U.S. who registered to use Ashley Madison are suing the cheating website after hackers released personal and detailed information, including financial data and sexual proclivities, of millions of users.
Thousands of federal bureaucrats who accessed the Ashley Madison website for extra-marital affairs opened the door for hackers, including those associated with foreign intelligence agencies, to gain access to sensitive government networks and U.S. secrets, according to cybersecurity experts. He was less than impressed. “I was a regular for about three months,” Michael, who works for a volunteer organisation in the Midwest, told AFP on Tuesday on condition of anonymity. “Honestly, the site was terrible. If even one federal official used a government computer or email to open a fake message from Ashley Madison that contained malware – a technique called “spear phishing” – all of the information stored at that government agency could be compromised. “The biggest thing it opens up is spear phishing,” American Enterprise Institute fellow Shane Tews told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “It makes it very hard for any sort of detection system. Many online articles have suggested that readers should check to see if their partners appear in the database files, but someone else has decided to offer help to the subscribers themselves.
You’ve basically given them permission to come into your computer.” “When you want to get into a system and you basically want to wreak havoc, all you need is one person dumb enough to open the email,” Tews continued. “One of the reasons why it’s so difficult to do cybersecurity is because it’s almost always a human error.” A hack last week on Ashley Madison, which uses the tagline “Life is short. Have an affair,” resulted in two data dumps that exposed personal information, including credit cards and email addresses, of an estimated 37 million people. Yaniv Erlich, of Columbia University’s Department of Computer Sciences and the New York Genome Center, and his colleague Assaf Gordon, have published a first-aid kit for anyone who surfed the site, to help them with damage control. “We don’t support the use of such websites, but we are firmly opposed to revealing people’s private information,” Erlich told Haaretz in order to explain his decision to help users of Ashley Madison. “It’s hard to say how many Israelis have been affected. Today, Michael finds himself living in fear after his account details appeared – among those of 32 million others – in the most talked-about data hack of the year. They say Ashley Madison failed to take reasonable steps to protect the security of its users, including those who paid a special fee to have their information deleted.
An estimated 15,000 federal or military officials used their government email addresses for their Ashley Madison accounts, according to the Federal Times. He worries not for his marriage – he and his wife have separated and divorce is in the works – but for the impact it could have on their child and on his job. “My fear is that this will wreak havoc in all areas of my life. Several hundred paid using their government-owned computers, The Associated Press reported. “I would expect to see more spear phishing attacks,” said Heritage Foundation research associate for homeland security and cybersecurity Riley Walters. Once malware is in a government network, a hacker can access, delete or degrade files – a process where a hacker will slowly alter information to avoid raising alarm, according to Tews. “They’re going to try to use the information any way they can,” Walters said. “The information is just another tool for how people can take advantage of other people.” Government agencies, including the U.S. All these people are at risk,” Erlich said. “If there’s even a small chance you used your Ashley Madison password in other websites, even with other email addresses or user names, change the password for these accounts.
It has so far triggered online extortion attempts and has been linked to at least two suicides, according to police in the Canadian city of Toronto, where the firm is based. Postal Service, both of which were breached in the last year, often don’t train their employees to detect spear phishing, despite warnings from their inspectors general, TheDCNF previously reported. Federal officials’ decision to access Ashley Madison with government technology increases the risk that an employee would click on malware, according to Institute for Critical Infrastructure Technology senior fellow James Scott. “Obviously they’re careless, obviously they have ethical issues,” Scott said.
They recommend changing the email address for any sites, such as Facebook, that were used to sign up for Ashley Madison — and if possible to erase that email account entirely. Adultery may be prosecuted in the US armed forces. “It has left both families and unfaithful partners terrified, hopeless and even full of rage,” psychology professor Nicolle Mayo at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania, told AFP.
A spokesman for Avid Life Media, the Toronto-based company that owns Ashley Madison, referred to previously released statements by the company calling the hack malicious and an “act of criminality.” “We will not sit idly by and allow these thieves to force their personal ideology on citizens around the world,” the company said in a statement last week. Serbia: The tens of thousands of migrants who have flooded into the Balkans in recent weeks need food, water and shelter, just like the millions displaced by war the world over. The hackers who took responsibility for Ashley Madison’s data breach have said they attacked the website in an effort to close it down as punishment for collecting a $19 fee without actually deleting users’ data. Erlich and Gordon warn that websites that offer a search of the list of emails that were leaked also collect information about the users and their Internet searches, and therefore this is an additional risk, but they suggest to find out if your name and other details have been leaked by checking a search engine that does not collect private information, such as startpage.com.
But there is also one other thing they swear they cannot live without: a smartphone charging station. “Every time I go to a new country, I buy a SIM card and activate the internet and download the map to locate myself,” Osama Aljasem, a 32-year-old music teacher from Deir al-Zour in Syria, explained as he sat on a broken park bench in Belgrade, staring at his smartphone and plotting his next move into northern Europe. “I would never have been able to arrive at my destination without my smartphone,” he added. “I get stressed out when the battery even starts to get low.” Technology has transformed this 21st-century version of a refugee crisis, not least by making it easier for millions more people to move. The credit card information of U.S. government workers — some with sensitive jobs in the White House, Congress and the Justice Department — was revealed in the breach. Likewise, if an employee uses their personal email on a government device, a hacker still could infect the agency’s systems, because malware can sit on the hardware and wait to infect networks later.
It has intensified the pressures on routes that prove successful, like this one through the Balkans, where the United Nations said this week about 3000 people a day continued to cross the border from Greece into Macedonia. Migrants depend on them to post real-time updates about routes, arrests, border guard movements and transport, as well as places to stay and prices, all the while keeping in touch with family and friends. Denise Friedman, chair of the psychology department at Roanoke College in Virginia, said Ashley Madison users are learning the hard way that nothing in cyberspace is ever genuinely private. “You put stuff online and it doesn’t matter how secure you think it is,” because someone is always liable to crack the firewalls that supposedly protect it, Friedman, who studies the impact of social media on relationships. Photo: Reuters The first thing many do once they have successfully navigated the watery passage between Turkey and Greece is pull out a smartphone and send loved ones a message that they made it. Traffickers advertise their services on Facebook like any legitimate travel agency, with dynamic photographs of destination cities and generous offers.
The 1700 euro ($2748) price of the journey from Istanbul to Thessaloniki, Greece, includes travel by car to and from each side of the border with a two-hour walk across. “We have cars going every day,” the trafficker boasts. We try to provide help based on our knowledge and experience in the technical aspects of online privacy and not to judge 39 million individuals for their poor decisions.” write the scientists on their blog. “Even if you have no sympathy for the victims of the Ashley-Madison data-breach — “they deserve to be forever flagged as cheaters” — just extrapolate to the next privacy data breach: Perhaps it will be of users of the OKCupid dating website, or of a closed support group for LGBTQ teens, or the clients of a drug-rehabilitation center … Syrians are helped along their journeys by Arabic-language Facebook groups like “Smuggling into the EU” with 23,953 members and “How to emigrate to Europe” with 39,304. They are used widely both by those travelling alone and with traffickers — in fact, the ease and autonomy the apps provide may be cutting into the smuggling business. “Right now the traffickers are losing business because people are going alone, thanks to Facebook,” said Mohamed Haj Ali, 38, who works with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Belgrade, Serbia’s capital, a major stopover for migrants. Their private messaging group is called “Our Family.” Shadad Alhassan, 39, said he “lost everything” when his home was bombed in Damascus, where he once worked installing electrical inverters in a skyscraper under construction. “My wife died in the bombing,” he said. “Now I have nothing left besides my two sons,” he said, indicating Wassem, 10, and Nazih, 9, sitting with him on a sleeping bag on the dirt in the park.
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