If you haven’t heard, last month hackers acquired and outed the information of 40 million Ashley Madison users, a site frequented by would-be adulterers looking for a new partner in crime. The hackers, a group called the Impact Team, claimed that they made the information public because the site’s advertising was dishonest about its 90-95% male user base. Very few women used the site, which is mildly amusing at first glance—but despite the distasteful nature of the site, it isn’t so easy to laugh away as you might think.
The breach did not come from a group of people who were outraged at the prospect of adultery—indeed, cheating spouses seem a lesser concern to the group responsible for the leak than the thought of false advertising about the number of women who used the site. It seems easy to ridicule the many men (and handful of women) who hoped to find extramarital affairs through Ashley Madison, but some users sustained real and significant damage—not just to their reputations, but to their mental well-being. Though it’s likely that most of the site’s hopefuls never actually had an affair through it, does their being there in the first place mean they deserve to have their private information, which sometimes included credit card details and home addresses, exposed?
Australian internet security expert received hundreds of pleas from Ashley Madison’s users begging for help in clearing their names. One user who contacted Hunt claimed to be on the very brink of suicide, claiming that he would rather kill himself than live with the reality of his family and friends finding out about his account. And this user isn’t the only one in that position. Significant others have contacted Troy to see if he can tell them if their spouses have used the site, if he can remove the account, if he can please help. He sees a lot of pain entering his inbox, many regretful voices, shame, and humiliation. Do the users deserve it? Well, it’s not an easy question to answer, but the kind of public flogging that followed the breach may not have been a punishment that fit the crime.
If a security breach happened to Ashley Madison, realistically, it could happen anywhere (and has). If you’re on the outside of the AM scandal snark comes easily, but the site’s security breakdown is an important reminder of the importance of cyber security. AM users, though they engaged in some questionable behavior, did not necessarily deserve to have their private information leaked—and if you were in their position, you might feel similarly. Our feelings about the AM victims is a bit mixed, particularly as so many of them are considering suicide as an alternative to what their lives have become—but was the breach worth that particular price?