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The Ashley Madison Fallout Has Begun - And It's Not Pretty

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The cat is well and truly out of the bag.

After hackers calling themselves Impact Team finally carried out their threat to release the data of people using the affairs website Ashley Madison on Tuesday night - with a further dump of information reported last night - the first stories of deceived spouses and hypocritical politicians are starting to drip through.

A 10 gigabyte file called "Time's Up!" was posted on BitTorrent and the dark web earlier in the week, with the hackers calling users "cheating dirtbags" who "do not deserve anonymity". They had announced the attack in July, demanding that the site and an associated one called Established Men be taken offline within 30 days.

Ashley Madison

There's a whole other debate to be had about whether this hack is justified or not, but it seems clear now that the motives of the hackers were 'moral' rather than for any financial gain, or a desire to expose security flaws within the website's system - and the ramifications of their actions is just beginning to be seen.

Naturally, there was never going to be an instant 'mass exposure' of cheaters as it would require an initial suspicion, a desire to act on that suspicion - effectively breaching the trust of someone who may be perfectly innocent - and then the technical knowhow to sift though vast quantities of data to find your person. But this is 2015: there's people out there to do that for you.

An Australian radio show on Nova FM has already come under fire after it invited people to ring up if they suspected their partner of having an affair and they'd take a look for them. It yielded instant results. 

“When that little thing came on the news about the Ashley Madison hack, he sort of went a bit funny,” the woman said. “I asked him straight out. He said, ‘Don’t be stupid. We’re married, we’ve got two kids.’” She added that his work hours had altered, money had gone missing from their account and he was guarded about his phone."

“We’re putting him into this website right now and his details have revealed that he’s actually on the website” said the radio host Fitzy, before the woman replied, “Are you serious? Are you freaking kidding me... These websites are disgusting”. She promptly hung up, with fellow host Wippa saying: “Oh I don’t know if we should have done that. That hasn’t left me with a good feeling. I’m sorry that that happened. I feel a bit bad.”

Meanwhile, it's been revealed that a US Family Values activist Josh Duggar was a fully paid-up member throughout his tenure as executive director of the Family Research Council, a conservative lobbying group which seeks “to champion marriage and family as the foundation of civilization, the seedbed of virtue, and the wellspring of society.” However, this wasn't quite the big revelation it could have been; in May this year he was forced to resign after In Touch Weekly reported that he had molested five young girls over the space of a decade - but it illustrates that some of those whose reputations rely on being holier-than-thou must be quietly terrified.

Josh Duggar

The disgraced Josh Duggar

Another potential victim is married SNP MP Michelle Thomson, who represents Edinburgh West and has found her email address in the released data. However, she is maintaining that it's part of a smear campaign, claiming that, due to the site's lack of verification of new email addresses, someone else could have simply signed up for the service using her email address, in order to hide their own identity.

Other literal fall guys include 10,000 email addresses associated with the US military - where cheating on your spouse is actually a crime - and 5,000 members of US government workers; a profession where you can guarantee that your rivals will be digging for every piece of dirt they can possibly find - as evidenced by the rapid reveal of Michelle Thomson.

So there's no doubt that this is only the beginning of the drip of information. Blackmail is surely going to be an inevitable consequence of anyone who can start contacting compromised parties before their spouses are aware. Anger and denials from those claiming to be innocent, but a belief that 'there's no smoke without fire' probably damning them regardless. And for those genuinely exposed, recriminations, heartache and divorce settlements are almost inevitable: in fact, Chris Longbottom, head of family law firm Shoosmiths has said his firm has been receiving at least three calls a day since the initial leak, while Nigel Shepard, a partner at family law firm Mills & Reeve, has seen divorce proceedings begin for a woman who discovered her partner's details were in the data set.

The genie is out of the bottle, so there's nothing anyone can do but, given some social media anger about the nature of the actions of those Australia radio presenters, let's at least hope that the fallout is handled with as much care as possible, or it could be a bloodbath out there over the coming months.

 

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