Uh-Oh! Cheating Online Isn’t Safe Anymore

The Ashley Madison hackers have started naming names.



“I mean isn’t that why we are here, to be as discreet as possible?”

Those enticing words probably sound a little different today to the Brockton, Massachusetts, man who posted them on the marital-cheating website Ashley Madison than they did when he typed them. He’s the first AM user publicly outed by hackers who this week compromised the adulterous secret identities of 37,000,000 current and former users of the site.

Intrigued? Want to know more? Of course you do; this is the Internet. Boston’s WBZ-TV reports: “Among the data released about the Brockton client of Ashley Madison: His user ID is ‘Heavy73’; he listed himself as ‘married/attached’; he joined the site the day after Valentine’s Day, 2014; he likes ‘cuddling & hugging’ and is into ‘discretion & secrecy.’”

One other poor sucker/scapegoat in Ontario, Canada, had private information revealed on Thursday by the hackers, who call themselves “The Impact Team.” They’re the Robin Hoodie sort of hackers; they accuse Avid Life Media, Inc., which owns Ashley Mad, of lying when the company promises to scrub all of a user’s personal info for a $19 fee. The giant hack, according to the Impact Team, shows that once such info is out there on the Internet, it never goes away. So 37,000,000 cheaters (or wannabe cheaters, which is just as bad) are out there quaking in their boots, and a Boston-based attorney says the site could be liable if users can prove that security breaches caused them adverse effects like, oh, say, a divorce.

When the Internet first blossomed, the allure of anonymity made it seem like the world’s best playground. Now, in just the past few days, the online world has been shaken by the fallout from gossip website Gawker’s unseemly exposé of gay tail-chasing by a private citizen/husband/father, and the Ashley Madison, ahem, affair. The company made $114 million last year, and was said to be exploring an IPO. Just a few months ago, Ashley Madison’s founder and CEO, Noel Biderman, was crowing to CNBC: “I’m sitting on a lot of big data. I sign up 35,000 people a day. I get 120 million visitors a month. There are 1.2 million communications sent on my platform every day!” Man, that’s a lot of cheaters out there. And meeting fellow fornicators online must seem a lot quicker and cleaner than trolling for them in sleazy singles bars with your wedding ring tucked in your pocket. But it turns out that if you want to make that bed rock, you should maybe do the legwork, and cheat the good old-fashioned way.

On the other hand, this mega-cheaters-hack could, by its grand scope, provide the impetus for us as a society to reconsider how we’ve come to use the Internet to inflict mob rule. You might think you’re safe because you’d never use Ashley Madison. But would you tell a little white lie about how fast you can run, like a lot of people think Mike Rossi did? Screw up in your job, like postal worker Patrick D’Ambrosio? Send a compromising text message, like Anthony Weiner? Everybody has secrets, and nowadays, all of them are out there in the ether, just waiting to ruin people’s lives.

Well, everybody except me, of course.

Discreetly, oh so discreetly, follow Sandy Hingtson on Twitter.