What Is Ashley Madison and Who Hacked the Dating Website? | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #hacker

In 2015, a group of hackers breached the discreet dating website Ashley Madison and threatened to expose the data. Reports indicate that hackers told the website owners that they would dump the data on the internet if they didn’t shut down their platform. The hackers eventually exposed the website’s data, including names, addresses, and pictures of the users. The case of Ashley Madison’s catastrophic hack will be featured in Netflix’s upcoming documentary series Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal.

Launched in 2001, Ashley Madison is an online dating service for married people. Moreover, the website openly embraced its role as a platform for people seeking extramarital affairs. Most of its users were either married or in a relationship. In the initial years of its launch, the website garnered a lot of popularity. After Noel Biderman became the company’s CEO, he and his partners aggressively promoted the website to make it famous. By 2015, Ashely Madison had over 37 million users on their platform, per Tudum by Netflix

However, in July of that year, a cyberpunk team hacked Ashely Madison and exposed the data. BBC reported that a group called The Impact Team hacked the discreet dating website. The publication noted that forensic experts found no evidence of the group stealing data from any other digital platform. However, The Impact Team eventually leaked almost 10 GB of compressed data on the internet, revealing names, addresses, and other details. 

A report by WIRED noted that the leaked information included sensitive information and login data of around 33 million users. The data breach and leak forced the company’s CEO, Noel Biderman, to step down from his position. Although an investigation occurred in the case, no investigative agencies could find the real culprits behind the hack.

Ashley Madison data breach: Why did it happen?

The Impact Team revealed their motive behind breaching Ashley Madison’s servers and hacking the website. According to Forbes, the group told the website’s parent company, Avid Life Media, to take down Ashley Madison and one of its other properties. Subsequently, the hackers said that if the website owners failed to take down the website, they would publish all the customer data. Avid Life Media refused to shut down its properties and as a result, The Impact Team published the data on a website hosted by Tor network.

The Impact Team stated that over 90 percent of the users on Ashley Madison are males. Moreover, they revealed that the website has thousands of fake female profiles. Citing their statement, Forbes noted, “Find someone you know in here? Keep in mind the site is a scam with thousands of fake female profiles… 90-95 per cent of actual users are male. Chances are your man signed up on the world’s biggest affair site but never had one. He just tried to. If that distinction matters.”

Meanwhile, The Impact Team also noted that people should file criminal charges against Ashley Madison for failing them. The group said, “Prosecute them and claim damages. Then move on with your life. Learn your lesson and make amends. Embarrassing now, but you’ll get over it.” Although there were a lot of discussions about the authenticity of the data, a renowned security expert stated that the information is real. The expert told Forbes that the leaked information had details such as sexual preferences and credit card transactions.

That Time Ashley Madison Ruined All of Their Customer's Lives

In a statement, Ashley Madison’s parent company, Avid Life Media, apologized to its users and called the hacking incident an “act of cyber-terrorism.” Citing their statement, BBC noted, “We apologise for this unprovoked and criminal intrusion into our customers’ information. We have been able to secure our sites and close the unauthorized access points. Any and all parties responsible for this act of cyber-terrorism will be held responsible.”

The Netflix documentary Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies, & Scandal will discuss the hacking incident in detail and explain how and why it happened. It will be available for streaming on Wednesday, May 15. 


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