The Ashley Madison hacking scandal has opened yet another door to the depths of the Internet and how much data is open to scrutiny. Ashley Madison advertises itself as the most famous name in infidelity and married dating, claiming to be the world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters.
What’s interesting to note is the impact of this scandal in the public arena. We gathered some research on the topic, and noticed something very interesting. In just the last few weeks, there has been an uptick in search terms “Ashley Madison” and “divorce.” What’s even more interesting is that much of the search interest seems to be originating in Washington DC. In just August of 2015, the search term “Ashley Madison” went up 77 percent, while “divorce” went up 100 percent.
Some of those names recently exposed are members of government, law enforcement and military officials, not to mention public officials holding office all the way up to the White House. With that in mind, the concern immediately goes to security, concern for potential breach of classified material or operations and the potential for extortionable activities impacting security clearances, thus directly impacting their ability to perform their duties. As this scandal advances, those names in this database breach will be under intense personal and professional scrutiny. Without a doubt, there will be many of those named who will not be able to continue in their current professional positions due to the security risk they pose. Along with a risk of security breach, their behavior will also adversely affect their professional credibility, which is significant in many positions, both private and public.
We also now must consider the impact of this scandal on the privacy of the 37 million involved. This scandal has taken the average “nextdoor neighbor” from faithful spouse to cheater in less than 36 hours. Current estimates tell us that approximately 37 million members of the website have had their personal information, including emails, phone numbers and names, revealed for public examination. What most don’t understand is, in this digital age, unique identifiers such as email and cellphone numbers are now almost as useful as a SSN (Social Security Number) in identifying individuals. Reflect on how many accounts and identification information on websites almost always lean on email and/or cellphone number to identify you in their database, instead of a SSN or birthdate. Thus, we have quickly transitioned to a situation where those identifiers are just as crucial as a birthday or SSN was 20 years ago. This has certainly changed the climate of database search.
This scandal shines a spotlight on the need for people to clearly understand that in today’s digital world, there really isn’t privacy, for either personal or professional information. There is a false sense of security created by passwords and creative wording on websites. Without addressing personal morals, every must realize that potential for compromise and the responsibility for privacy remains, as always, with the individual.