Ashley Madison Hack: A Story With No Heroes

Ashley Madison founder Noel Biderman poses with a poster.
Ashley Madison founder Noel Biderman poses with a poster.

Most news stories have a hero and a villain. Firefighters fight fire. Sick people battle cancer. Police chase criminals. Politicians actively sabotage the nation.

The Ashley Madison hack is a little different. Millions of aspiring cheaters using the services of a terrible company have been exposed by the self-appointed high priests of the Internet. Everybody involved in this story sucks.

Avid Life Media may be the Bernie Madoff of the extra-marital sex business.

The owner of Ashley Madison markets the site with the motto “Life is short. Have an affair”. If recent reports are correct, that should be changed to “Life is short. Maybe go for a nice walk”.

According to the hackers who stole Avid Life Media’s data, 90 to 95% of the people using Ashley Madison are men. If that’s true, the whole enterprise is essentially a scam where married men strike out in search of an affair and end up scouring an endless landscape of other married men.

That’s kind of funny. But also, fraud is wrong.

The cheaters are probably the most forgivable characters in this sorry saga. These sadsacks dreamed of a steamy entanglement, entered a mangled version of John Key’s email address into a sign-up form, and ended up in a sexually-charged chat room with a whole lot of increasingly desperate dudes.

Honestly, screw these guys.

First off, the anonymous group behind the Ashley Madison hack has a name like an all-male Crossfit group. Do they have a cross-town rivalry with Strength Crew? They write in a voice comparable to a villain taking over a TV channel in an action movie. Here’s how they announced their hack:

“We are the Impact Team. We have taken over all systems in your entire office and production domains, all customer information databases, source code repositories, financial records, emails ... Shutting down AM and EM will cost you, but non-compliance will cost you more.”

It reads like someone spliced the genes of an angry IRD officer and the guy from V for Vendetta.

Impact Team wouldn’t be quite so annoying if they just admitted they did it because it was cool. Instead, like most hackers, they appear to think their ability to do some high-level computering makes them the Popes of the World Wide Web.

This isn’t Wikileaks. They’re not Snowden. Impact Team isn’t exposing some high-level Government corruption. They’re just releasing the data of a bunch of dickheads in Sao Paulo. While you may not care about them, appointing a bunch of faceless hackers as the world’s morality police has wider implications. As John Herman writes in The Awl, “this hack could be ruinous—personally, professionally, financially—for [the hack victims] and their families. But for everyone else, it could haunt every email, private message, text and transaction across an internet where privacy has been taken for granted”. In other words, what happens if the Facebook is next?

There are also potentially innocent hack victims to consider. Whether this is genuine or not, it’s not an unrealistic situation:

Impact Team are not the high wizards of internet morality.

This is a sex story with no-one to root for. Thank you. Goodnight.