Ashley Madison, ‘Hacktivism’ And Sticking Your Nose Where It Doesn’t Belong

by Calico Rudasill at Porn For Women and Couples

A wise woman once imparted a piece of wisdom to me which has served me well every time I’ve come into possession of a scandalous secret or hitherto hidden fact which is potentially damaging to someone else: “Never blow the whistle unless you’re certain you know the score.”

I’ve been thinking about that phrase a lot over the last few days, while reading the saga of the Ashley Madison hack – a situation which could be a whole lot more complicated than a lot of readers realize.

Read on…

In case you’re not familiar with what has happened, here it is in a nutshell: Last week, a ‘hacktivist’ group calling itself the Impact Team compromised, a site which openly caters to people looking to have an affair, sporting the marketing tagline “Life is short. Have an affair.”

One of the reasons for the hack offered by the Impact Team was a function provided by Ashley Madison called “Full Delete,” which alleged to offer users a way to eradicate just about every trace of their previous use of the site – for a price, that is. In addition to seeming a bit like an underhanded form of blackmail, there was another aspect of full delete which irked the Impact Team: It appears it didn’t work.

“Full Delete netted ALM $1.7mm in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie,” Impact Team wrote in a statement which accompanied the user data posted by the group. “Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real name and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed.”

Watch this funny John Oliver bit about this…..


On the one hand, it’s hard to drum up too much sympathy for either the company behind Ashley Madison (Toronto-based Avid Life Media) or users of the site who used it in a covert attempt to step out on their significant others.

On the other hand, when a group like Impact Team conducts a mass data dump of all the user information of such a site, there are several categories of users they might not have accounted for in all their self-righteous zeal.

For starters, at least some of the user accounts on Ashley Madison are bound to represent competitive research undertaken by other websites – and not necessarily websites which exist to facilitate cheating on one’s spouse.

Suppose I’m a running a dating site and I’ve heard good things about the Ashley Madison interface, or some functionality the site offered, so I purchase a membership to get a good glimpse of how it works from the user perspective. Being thorough in my research, I send out a few messages and “winks” to get a feel for the whole environment.

Now, fast forward several months, and my credit card information is loose on the web, because as a practical matter, there’s no way for the morally upright computer fraudsters over at Impact Team to differentiate my use of the site from that of a real user.

Forget the obvious problem everyone else is focusing on (which in this context would be explaining to my hypothetical spouse that I was conducting legitimate market research, not trying to find someone with whom to have surreptitious booty calls) – as someone with a bit of a clue how quickly and easily someone’s entire financial solvency can be shaken by identity theft, my bigger issue is the release of sensitive personal data into the online ecosphere, where it’s conceivable it was copied and redistributed several times before anyone even thought about how to get it taken down.

How Much Collateral Damage Is Acceptable?

For those who applaud the efforts of Impact Team, have they given any thought at all to the collateral damage here?

I know what you’re thinking: How many of the 37 million users in the compromised database in question could possibly have been conducting market research? Not many, obviously, but probably more than you think – because in addition to competitive research, there’s also the issue of review sites, both professional and user-contributed.

Let’s say you think the number of Ashley Madison users who are/were legitimately “innocent” of attempted cheating is so miniscule as to be inconsequential, here’s another possibility to chew on: Given that Ashley Madison doesn’t bill under a name which makes it easy to look at credit card statement and figure out in a glance what sort of company the charge is from, isn’t it at least possible some of the credit card data here belongs to very people who are being cheated on?

If that one doesn’t grab you, consider this: A kid comes home from college for the summer, and after hearing there are lots of hot, willing and able women on the site, uses his father’s credit card to sign for an account on Ashley Madison.

Maybe he hooks up with someone there, maybe he doesn’t – but either way, now dad’s credit card info is on the web associated with a cheating website, and unless his kid steps up and takes the heat, this could result in some serious marital discord for no reason at all.

Again, I’m sure a lot of people are thinking “what are the odds?”

Well, with 37 million accounts at issue, I’m comfortable saying that, statistically, at least a couple dozen fall into one category of innocence or another. Ironically, this figure might also include people who work for Ashley Madison who conducted live tests of the website – unless Impact Team has somehow filtered out the “dummy” credit card numbers of the sort IPSPs provide to their merchants for testing purposes (which I very much doubt they did).

Never mind the ‘true innocents’ I’ve theorized about above; how about people who just get a thrill from online flirting, or cybersex which never manifests in physical contact? Are their sins really any of your (or Impact Team’s) fucking business?

Where is the line drawn, and what the hell does releasing credit card numbers and other personally identifying information do to help anyone? To the extent the ‘victims’ of the cheating have finances intertwined with those who have (or would like to have) cheated on them, Impact Team has just screwed them, too.

So, Impact Team: Just how much collateral damage is acceptable, here? As much as it takes to make your point? (Whatever that point might be; it’s pretty hard for me to swallow the notion this breach was solely about shaming cheaters and those who enable them.)

Who Died And Made Impact Team Arbiter of Internet Morality, Anyway?

There’s no doubt in my mind a lot of people use Ashley Madison to step out on their partners – just as a lot of people have used classified ads, singles bars, dog parks, old friend’s weddings their own spouses decided to sit out, or any number of other mediums and environments to seek out extramarital affairs.

Yes, Ashley Madison is different, in that it openly and actively encourages people to cheat, but since when does that excuse acts of computer fraud, identity theft, extortion by threat, or any of the myriad other felonies of which members of Impact Team now seem so proud?

I’ll tell you this much: When the feds (just about inevitably) show up at the door of an Impact Team member with a subpoena and/or an arrest warrant, all the self-righteous moral indignation in the world isn’t going to prevent them from seeing the inside of a interrogation room, or eventually, a prison.

We’ll all see just how seriously these ‘hacktivists’ take their morality once they start being given choices like: “Identify the other members of your group, or go to trial with the potential of spending a decade or two in prison.”

My guess? They’ll sing like canaries – or maybe that should be lovebirds.

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