Where do I begin? Some companies deserve to get hacked. They build a large digital empire on the equivalent of a coastal floodplain, and then they act surprised when they get flooded. Sometimes, the results are funny, like when affluent Atlanta commuters call 911 because a hacked billboard is displaying Goatse. That’s hilarious, and by the same token, the Ashley Madison hack looks screamingly funny.
According to the hackers responsible, the company’s security was about as tough as a 90-year-old Wal-Mart greeter. The hackers pwned everything from user profiles to the CEO’s internal emails. That degree of pwnership is ridiculous, and now we own all that data too. Thanks to all that data, we now know that Josh Duggar, him of 19 Kids and Counting, not only paid for an account, but paid extra for an affair guarantee. That’s funny. Oh, and that really annoying Christian vlogger, the one with the fake pregnancy announcement, and subsequent fake miscarriage — he had an account too. I laughed out loud at that, and I laughed more when I discovered that the guy who broke the news is on twitter as Nick Denton’s Pussy. Good job, Nick Denton’s Pussy. Well done.
Here’s the part where I take a shit in the punchbowl.
One of my favorite authors is the seminal cyberpunk writer, Bruce Sterling. The other day he responded to the Ashley Madison hack with a typically pithy quote, “I hope the Chinese aren’t busy collating that with their handy federal list of every American with a security clearance.” If you’re not familiar with information security, you might not know why that took the wind out of my sails, so let’s unpack this.
A few months ago, the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was hacked, and because the OPM did a number of very stupid things, security-wise, the hackers took everything that wasn’t nailed down. This includes a bunch of data on people working in sensitive government positions: military intelligence, foreign relations, basically everywhere you’d need a security clearance to work. It is very likely that the Chinese government perpetrated this attack. And now, thanks to the Ashley Madison leak, the Chinese can now figure out if anyone on their list of people in important government positions ever contemplated cheating on their spouse. FYI, the Ashley Madison leak contained approximately ten thousand government email addresses.
Some of these people will almost certainly be blackmailed because of their association with this leak. Some people are being blackmailed already. And, let’s be honest here, some people are actually going to die. This isn’t idle speculation. According to the BBC, at least two people that were exposed in the hack have committed suicide. Many users, for example, have accounts based in Saudi Arabia, where adultery is punishable by death. Some of those users were men seeking affairs with other men, in a country where homosexuality is also punishable by death. That’s not even accounting for the (apparently microscopic) fraction of women on the site, who will now face the extremely dismal statistics regarding uxoricide.
I’m not saying don’t laugh at the articles about moralizing busybodies being exposed as hypocrites. What I am saying is that very soon, probably as soon as the news cycle forgets this story, real people are going to get very badly hurt.