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2015: Ashley Madison hackers turn vigilante on civilians

Data breach went beyond revenge on a company to spark divorces, firings and even suicides.

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Ashley Madison Hackers:

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Large-scale hacks continued to be de rigeur in 2015, but none were as impactful as the Ashley Madison breach. No pun intended.

In July, a group of hackers known as “The Impact Team” announced they had stolen data on the adultery website’s users. They threatened to publicly release it – including names, addresses and so on – unless the site immediately shut down. Toronto-based parent Avid Media ignored the demand and so the dump was on.

Journalists, coders and forensic experts spent the next few weeks combing through the data and turned up a wealth of juicy information besides 37 million user names.

Among the revelations was the fact that Avid had misled its male users about how many female members were on the site, with a great many of them being ‘bots. Emails from Noel Biderman, meanwhile, showed the site’s founder had multiple affairs on his own wife despite years of statements to the contrary.

All told, the data dump revealed Ashley Madison to be one of the biggest scams in history. Bewilderingly, the site claimed the hack actually led to a growth in membership. Yeah, right.

The hack took a major toll beyond just the company, with outed members in much hot water. Wives divorced husbands, government workers lost their jobs and a few people even killed themselves.

Previous hacks, such as the Sony breach in 2014 that centred around the Seth Rogen movie The Interview, seem tame in comparison.

Vigilante hacking has been around for ages, and much of it has had big financial ramifications for the companies or individuals involved, but it has rarely if ever taken such a personal toll on people who were essentially civilians.

Whatever anyone’s feelings toward adulterers may be, the ruining of so many lives by self-appointed judges shows that hacking rose to a new level of incredulity in 2015. Not content to pass judgement on the ethical behaviour of large corporations, this year the vigilantes turned their sights on regular people.

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