The Ashley Madison Hack, Explained


Ashley Madison was recently hacked by an organization calling itself the Impact Team, and the site was threatened with the release of gigabytes of users’ private information unless the site’s owners, Avid Life Media, shut down Ashley Madison completely. They didn’t, so the hackers in question have put all that information out in the wild. Here’s what you need to know.

So, what leaked?

Well, let’s see here: Real names, addresses, IP addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, and, oh yeah, the sexual tastes of its users. All told, we’re talking about 33 million users outed.

Oof. That’s bad.

It gets worse! The site has more or less promised users that it would delete all this information when they quit the site, for a fee. It’s fairly clear that hasn’t happened, so Ashley Madison itself is probably going to be sued out of existence in fairly short order.

Any celebrities yet?

So far, just Josh Duggar, but that’s not going to last. Allegations are already flying as people sift through the data. We’re still seeing information come out of other data breaches months later, so it might be a while before all this is said and done.

I want to point and laugh at this. Does that make me a bad person?

Sort of? It’s easy to imagine Ashley Madison is populated entirely by douchebags, but the site had an enormous number of users there for various reasons, not just cheating, and some of them might be in actual danger. Keep in mind this is a hack that exposes the real names, addresses, and other personal information of women, and there are sections of the internet perfectly happy to bombard women with death threats for having an opinion on video games. There are going to be a lot of police calls in the next few weeks.

At the very least, it seems that the jokes about divorce attorneys are coming true, which will be ugly in itself. No doubt, some of the site’s users are the kind of shallow trolls deserving of a comeuppance; it’s an attitude the site itself is happy to perpetuate with its advertising. But increasingly, as people talk about how they used the site, it’s clear that’s not the whole story.

What if I want to look up a few email addresses?

You can if you really want to, but ask yourself this: Do you really want to? Here’s a good piece a genetic researcher wrote about how he gave his family what he thought was a cute gift and wound up tearing open an old wound and getting his parents divorced.

To be honest, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if the majority of the site’s users turned out to never have actually cheated on their spouses. Dating sites aren’t about actually matching people up, they’re about using the promise of sex to get your wallet open. One thing notably missing from this data is any sort of connection between users; the only thing this confirms is that these 33 million people saw an ad and were dumb enough to buy an account.

Should they be embarrassed? Probably. But in the end, embarrassing them isn’t our job.