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Ashley Madison hacked: Here’s why the website for ‘cheating spouses’ got targeted

Ashley Madison, a website to help "cheating spouses find a fling online", has been hacked by a group called The Impact Team

By: Tech Desk |
Updated: August 19, 2015 9:18:14 am
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Ashley Madison, a website to help “cheating spouses find a fling online”, has been hacked by a group called The Impact Team, which has threatened to post user information online if the website is not shut down.

AshleyMadison.com is owned by Avid Life Media (ALM), a Toronto-based firm. ALM also owns other dating sites like Cougar Life and Established Men. AshleyMadison has been around since 2001 and claims to have over 37 million users.

So why did AshleyMadison get hacked? According to the hackers, a part of the reason appears to be $20 fee that AshleyMadison would charge its users if they wanted their profile deleted completely. The hackers, who broke into the site, revealed that the data of even those who had paid the fee was still very much present.

The hackers also leaked maps of internal company servers, employee network account information, company bank account data and salary information. The Impact Team has also accused ALM of running a prostitution ring with the website called Established Men which aims to connect rich men with attractive girls.

According to information security journalist Brian Krebs, who first reported the news, The Impact Team, wrote,

“Too bad for ALM, you promised secrecy but didn’t deliver. We’ve got the complete set of profiles in our DB dumps, and we’ll release them soon if Ashley Madison stays online. And with over 37 million members, mostly from the US and Canada, a significant percentage of the population is about to have a very bad day, including many rich and powerful people.”

On charging $20 to delete an account, Ashley Madison has faced questions this in the past. Ars Technica, had earlier pointed out how the AshleyMadison website was confusing users when it came to deleting accounts.

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The report pointed out how users were offered options like Hide Profile (which caused the profile to be hidden and a basic deactivation) and Full Delete which saw total removal of data, messages, personal history, etc from the site. To do a full delete, users had to pay up, while the ‘hide profile’ did not really explain what happened when users went for that option.

ALM so far has not denied the attack and in statement said,

“We were recently made aware of an attempt by an unauthorized party to gain access to our systems. We immediately launched a thorough investigation utilizing leading forensics experts and other security professionals to determine the origin, nature, and scope of this incident. 

We apologize for this unprovoked and criminal intrusion into our customers’ information. The current business world has proven to be one in which no company’s online assets are safe from cyber-vandalism, with Avid Life Media being only the latest among many companies to have been attacked, despite investing in the latest privacy and security technologies. 

At this time, we have been able to secure our sites, and close the unauthorized access points. We are working with law enforcement agencies, which are investigating this criminal act. Any and all parties responsible for this act of cyber–terrorism will be held responsible.”

The data breach atAshleyMadison comes two months after dating website AdultFriendFinder was hacked putting the data of nearly 4 million users at risk as it had found its way online. AdultFriendFinder did not reveal the nature of the data security breach and had said that it was investigating the incident with law enforcement agencies.

Unlike in the case of AdultFriendFriender, “Ashley Madison” hackers have put forth a clear demand that ALM shutdown its sites. The fact that user data was compromised and the hackers allegations that ALM does not delete credit card information which is linked to other things like address and name, highlights privacy concerns. The incident is another example of how companies tend to treat user data and the lack of transparency that needs to change, even if it is around adults who are potential cheaters.

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