When the “Impact Team” hackers dumped their pilfered database of clients for the Ashley Madison adultery website on the Internet, tech experts were quick to point out that it would take some effort to positively identify most of the clients, as many of them employed false names and addresses.
The hackers provided a database of payment transactions that could be used to bypass these aliases. It was only a matter of time before the ticking scandal bomb began to detonate. Even with a ten-gigabyte trove of data, cross-indexing doesn’t take very long in the Information Age.
The first celebrity name to pop out of the database was Josh Duggar of the TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting. This is not a tremendous shock, as Duggar’s show had already been canceled, and his position with the Family Research Council eliminated, following the revelation that he molested four of his sisters.
Still, the amount of money Duggar paid for Ashley Madison services is eye-popping: $986.76 for two annual subscriptions, with one of them evidently billed to his grandmother’s house, and the other to his home address. He also kicked in $250 for an “affair guarantee” that would refund his money if he was not able to arrange an extra-marital liaison within three months.
It’s interesting that Duggar would be the first name media people searched for and found in the database. Are there some names they’re less eager to look for? At any rate, everyone will be data-mining like crazy over the coming weeks, so more recognizable names are certain to emerge.
In fact, International Business Times mentions a few that haven’t drawn as much media play as Duggar, including Celia Walden, wife of onetime CNN host Piers Morgan, who says she “signed up as part of her research to prepare an interview with [Ashley Madison’s] founder, Noel Biderman.” Walden said on Wednesday that she used the account and sent “tawdry” messages to men as part of her research, which made her feel “distinctly grubby.”
She posted video from her interview with Biderman at the UK Telegraph in October 2010. In the clip, Biderman said that people didn’t properly appreciate how much his adultery website contributed to “society in general,” and described infidelity as “a marriage preservation tool for some people,” a theory that will be put sorely to the test by the disclosure of his confidential client list.
Other prominent subscribers outed at IBT include an newly-elected UK member of parliament, Michelle Thomson, and Israeli Knesset member Taleb Abu Arar, who both said the accounts were created using their email addresses, without their knowledge, in efforts to smear them.
International Business Times notes that Ashley Madison did not require email addresses to be verified, so it is plausible that accounts could be created by miscreants as Thomson and Arar describe. The payment data would go a long way toward establishing who actually paid for these accounts, and it would be curious if smear artists paid money years ago to set up targets with bogus Ashley Madison profiles but never actually got around to smearing them.
There could be a lot more than reputation-trashing at stake for some users, as IBT notes some of the user email addresses originate in Saudi Arabia, “where adultery carries a death penalty.”
In Australia, a pair of radio hosts solicited calls from women who suspected their husbands of cheating, and informed one of them live on the air that her husband did indeed have an Ashley Madison account. Many listeners turned to social media to profess themselves outraged by the stunt.
Here in the United States, interest in the large number of .gov and .mil email addresses sprinkled through the database led the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to perform a quick tally for their state, discovering about 30 Georgia government addresses in the mix. “A couple dozen workers in government offices across Georgia may be perspiring more than usual today,” the paper suggested.
The San Diego Union-Tribune did the same thing, and found nine email addresses from government domains in their city – one of them from the San Diego Police Department – plus “68 addresses from aircraft carriers currently homeported in San Diego.”
USA Today lists cities in Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas investigating government email addresses from their domains in the Ashley Madison list, and checking for violations of their Internet-use policies. The investigators seem duly mindful of the possibility that email addresses were used without the knowledge or consent of the rightful owners.
AdvisorHub relates stories of panic from within their business sector, since advisors rely so heavily upon their reputations. “This Ashley Madison thing has been blowing up my phone for the last two hours,” said one correspondent from the East Coast. “Guys I’ve known for the past decade are freaking out over this.”
He used some very colorful terminology to explain how fearful these colleagues were that private investigators and hired hackers would ferret their names out of the list, and said some had already retained their own hackers to to try wiping their names out of every copy on the Internet (an utterly doomed endeavor, folks, so anyone who would waste their money on it isn’t a very good financial advisor.)
“The market could drop 2,000 points and it wouldn’t cause the same kind of panic as this,” said the AdvisorHub correspondent, capturing the apprehension within the financial community. The legal community would also appear to be very nervous, although on the bright side, some have speculated the Ashley Madison saga will yield a windfall for divorce lawyers.
The AdvisorHub article goes on to state that human-resources departments at big firms are holding meetings to prepare for the fallout, and some HR people say they’re already receiving “anonymous” and “asking for a friend” inquiries.