Remember the Ashley Madison hack? An anonymous cyber strike that saw the details of 30 million subscribers to the "extramarital affair" website leaked online for no better reason than "they deserved it"?
Five months on, and the repercussions of that questionable moment of moral vigilantism have moved from the digital world to the physical - with one user reporting that they have received a message of blackmail in the post.
Security researcher Graham Cluey has reported that an Ashley Madison user contacted him after they were sent a physical postal letter (previous threats have been almost exclusively through emails) asking for $4,167 or face having their Ashley Madison details shared with "people close to them".
Cluey has advised the threatened account holder to avoid paying the blackmailer, as paying wouldn't remove their details from the wider leak, and would mark them out as someone willing to cave to threats of blackmail.
Back in July, user data was apparently stolen by a group labelling themselves as The Impact Team, delivering a message to Avid Life Media - the company who run Ashley Madison, and the service Established Men that "connects men with beautiful women" - in which they issued their terms and explained what would happen to the user details should they not be met.
"AM and EM must shut down immediately... shutting down AM and EM costs you nothing, but non-compliance will cost you more: We will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers' secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails"
The Impact Team weren't asking for money in return for the stolen data, nor were they hoping to further any particular cause for which they stand - they just believed that Ashely Madison, a website for adultery, shouldn't be allowed to exist. Similarly, they view Established Men as a "prostitution/human trafficking website for rich men to pay for sex". Beyond their moral gripes, Impact Team also took issue with Avid Life Media's questionable "full delete" service - which charges a $19 fee to scrub a user's details from their data banks. "Full Delete netted ALM $1.7mm in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie," the hacking group wrote. "Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real name and address (sic), which is of course the most important information the users want removed."
The Impact Team released the details of 35 million Ashley Madison users to put pressure on Avid Life Media, apparently having no sympathy for sharing the financial details of men whose ethical behaviour they disagree with: "Too bad for those men, they’re cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion".
It's the lack of sympathy on the part of the Impact Team that undermines their own ethical stance: to wage a war against a social network that actively encourages affairs is understandable and commendable - to a degree. However, there will doubtless be a small number of Ashley Madison users in consensual "open relationships", or in complex personal scenarios that see them being unable to get a divorce, but keen to find a way of dating someone who won't be put off by their confusing marital status. Do they deserve to be blackmailed?
And what of those who (apparently) do deserve to be blackmailed? If the Impact Team have an issue with the site's users for being "cheating dirtbags", it's an understandable action to identify them as individuals looking to be, or already actively, engaged in an affair. It's far trickier to agree with the aggressive, harmful act of providing the wider world with their bank details, address and other personal information, leaving them open to postal threats.
Regardless of your stance on services such as Ashley Madison, sharing the details of service users because of your hatred of the service provider is a low, hateful action to take.
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[Via: The Verge]