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All Hell Breaks Loose in Ashley Madison Scandal

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Last month we reported that Ashley Madison, the cheater-centric dating site, was being held to ransom by a hacker group called Impact Team. They were threatening to release a large amount of user data unless Ashley Madison, Established Men and Cougar Life (all owned by Avid Life Media) were shut down for good. Their main quarrel seemed to be that Ashley Madison users could not permanently delete their accounts unless they paid a $19 fee.

At the time, I said that the most likely outcome would be that no data would be leaked, the hackers would back off and everyone would just kind of forget about it. Well, it turns out I was dead wrong. On Tuesday Impact Team made good on their promises and took a steaming data dump, consisting of 9.6GB worth of user information. This included names, email addresses and a lot of in-depth details about sexual fantasies and preferences. More disturbingly, partial credit card information, postcodes and even GPS location data for some users was also included.
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Avid Life Media were seemingly unperturbed, releasing a statement the following day which asserted that no full, valid credit card information had been obtained or shared, so even if the dignity of many of their users was at risk, their wallets weren't. Going even further than that, Avid Life Media CEO Noel Biderman tried to claim that the data dump was entirely fake and no sensitive information of any kind had actually been released.

Impact Team didn't like that, and yesterday they dropped another 18.5GB of data, but this time it was a lot more than just user information. One particular compressed folder seems to contain emails to and from Biderman himself, and the leak even came affixed with the message 'Hey Noel, you can admit it's real now'. I don't mean to be crude, but it certainly appears that Impact Team have Avid Life Media by the balls.

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Last time I wrote about this, I went into some detail about the morality of it. I still maintain the opinion that as insipid and emotionally harmful as adultery is, nobody has the right make private information public. On the other hand, the users who signed up to Ashley Madison trusted them to use their personal information responsibly and by refusing to co-operate with Impact Team, Avid Life Media have done the exact opposite.

The entire premise of the site is discretion, and now it's becoming one of the highest trending topics online on a daily basis, Amobee Brand Intelligence reported a 666% spike in spike in online mentions of Ashley Madison between July 20th and August 19th, so lord knows how much it's risen to now. Whatever happens now, Ashley Madison is finished and Avid Life Media have taken a staggering blow to their PR reputation that they might not recover from.

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The data also has far wider reaching implications, especially if you look at the emails. This visual guide for all the info in the first dump shows that 1405 users registered with US government email addresses, compared to 918 in Brazil, 597 in Australia and 340 in South Africa. The UK fares a little better with a mere 71. Meanwhile, 311 users used IBM email accounts, alongside 161 HP employees, 63 for Apple and 48 for Microsoft. This, of course, says nothing of the people working in those places who had the good sense to use a personal email.

The real hammer blow will be whatever is contained in those Biderman emails, and there are undoubtedly people going through them with a fine-toothed comb even as we speak. Said information could lead other people to exploit the site even further and even break into to other sites owned and run by Avid Life. They could also reveal evidence of other activity that makes Avid Life look even worse.

Perhaps realising this, they have released another statement, this time accepting that their data has been pulled and distributed online. They assure readers that they are working with the FBI and various Canadian investigative outfits (Avid Life Media is based in Toronto) to track Impact Team down and stop them. They go further to assert that both they and the customers are acting well within the confines of the law and deserve to have their privacy and integrity respected. It's up to Avid Life and Biderman now to either keep fighting back or meet Impact Team's demands and shut the sites down. Given the amount of damage that's already been done, I'd say they'd be better off taking door number 2.


Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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All Hell Breaks Loose in Ashley Madison Scandal Reviewed by Callum Davies on Friday, August 21, 2015 Rating: 5
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