AshleyMadison Hack

The number of high-profile cyber attacks – from Sony Pictures’ November 2014 hack to health-insurer Premera Blue Cross’ hack earlier in March 2015 – have been on the rise in the recent past, and seem to be getting more serious with each case.

In July this year, another instance of a cyber attack that captured people’s attention globally was the hacking of AshleyMadison, a dating website that caters to married people looking for extramarital affairs.

The hackers attacked the website and stole the company’s user database. Then, they threatened to make it public if  owner Avid Life Media  didn’t permanently shut down AshleyMadison and its sister website, Established Men. Avid Life Media refused to comply and the hackers leaked more than 25 gigabytes of dataon August 18th and August 20th.

Sensitive information like name, address, phone numbers and partial credit card details of more than 33 million users were compromised, along with internal company information.

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via The Guardian

 

The hack led to AshleyMadison being sued for $500 million in class-action lawsuits by users of the website. A month after the leak, AshleyMadison’s CEO Noel Biderman resigned.

Rise of the moral digital vigilante

The hackers who call themselves Impact Team said that they disapproved of AshleyMadison’s business model of encouraging infidelity by arranging affairs between married people. They also criticized the company’s policy of charging a $19 fee from users for what they claim is complete deletion of all data, and failing to actually do so. In their letter, they wrote , “Too bad for those men, they’re cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion. Too bad for ALM, you promised secrecy but didn’t deliver.”


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Several conversation threads on social media seem to echo this sentiment – that people indulging in adultery deserve to have their private lives on display, and that they “had it coming”. Passionate reactions like these fail to consider the larger privacy implications. Can our online footprint remain private? And, does data that we delete actually get deleted permanently?

Flirting with data

People are increasingly dependent on their smartphones and devices to communicate and get things done. These devices collect extremely personal data. People willingly part with personal information for convenience and the impression that their information is secure. The recent hacks are increasingly shattering this sense of security, and raising serious questions.

The AshleyMadison hack in particular showed that data theft can lead to more than financial damage – it can affect relationships, marriages and reputations.

Experts predict that cyber attacks will only get worse in the coming years – what will that mean for data privacy in the future, for civilians, businesses and governments?

This post is a part of our People’s Insights monthly brief for August & September, Innovation without Boundaries.

Melanie Joe

Melanie Joe

Melanie is Consultant - Research and Insights at MSLGROUP, based in Mumbai. She tracks inspiring initiatives in the digital space for People's Insights.

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