Breach, Compliance Management, Data Security, Privacy, Threat Management

Extramarital website Ashley Madison hacked


The Ashley Madison website, which runs with the tagline is “life is short, have an affair”, has been compromised by hackers calling themselves The Impact Team who have obtained “all customers' secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions", plus other data belonging to the website operators.

The site promotes discrete sexual relationships and encounters at all levels; it has a particular slant towards (and reputation for attracting) married individuals who class themselves as attached.

Named after two non-connected female forenames by male founder Noel Biderman, Ashley Madison has more than 37 million users across 46 countries and generates more than £64.3 million per year in subscription fees. The site is thought to boast as many as 1.2 million British members.

The Ashley Madison homepage displays an SSL Secure Site logo and a Trusted Security Award logo.

Unprovoked criminal intrusion

Website operators at Ashley Madison have confirmed that an “unprovoked and criminal intrusion into our customers' information” has taken place.

“We were recently made aware of an attempt by an unauthorised party to gain access to our systems. We immediately launched a thorough investigation utilising leading forensics experts and other security professionals to determine the origin, nature, and scope of this incident,” stated Avid Life Media, owners of Ashley Madison.

Avid Life Media states that it has been now been able to secure its sites and close the unauthorised access points.

Security writer Brian Krebs details more of the mechanics of the hack: “Besides snippets of account data apparently sampled at random from among some 40 million users across ALM's trio of properties, the hackers leaked maps of internal company servers, employee network account information, company bank account data and salary information.”

Why did they do it?

Writing in The Telegraph online, Sophie Curtis gave a rationale for the attack.

“The Impact Team said it decided to publish the information in response to alleged lies Avid Life Media told its customers about its ‘full delete' feature, which allows members to completely erase their profile information for a US$19 (£12) fee,” wrote Curtis.

John Smith, senior solutions architect at Veracode, told to say that whilst this is just one in a long line of customer data hacks, the secretive nature of Ashley Madison and its especially intimate customer information means that this breach is particularly worrying to the site's subscribers.

“Whilst Ashley Madison sold a service to its users which promised secure deletion of their personal data, it seems in reality that it did not completely purge all of that data from all systems. This highlights the challenges that organisations face when handling personal data, which may be distributed across disparate systems, and further reinforces the need for strategic and systematic thinking when approaching the security of that data,” he said.

Veracode's Smith says that as businesses collect and hold personal data they have a ‘duty of care' to protect that information against a wide range of threats, whether it is a malicious insider (as may be the case here), an external attacker or accidental release of code in some form.

Don't say security, say ‘immune system'

Director of technology at ‘enterprise immune system' company Darktrace is Dave Palmer. Speaking to SC this week Palmer says that whether you call this ‘cyber-vandalism' or an ‘insider attack', the reality is that the threat is already inside.

“The company admits that the security tools that they had in place did not prevent the attack. Companies need to get real and take this on board, if they don't want to be the next victim. It means embracing an immune system approach [a term his own firm popularises] which is going to highlight the emerging signs of compromise, before damage is done – and abandoning the illusion that you can block all threat,” he said.

Palmer adds, “Avid Life Media is right to say that no online asset is safe today. It now needs to work out how it stops it happening again. Ultimately, it comes down to visibility. Did the team have visibility of its networks that would have shown them that one insider behaving abnormally? It looks like the answer is ‘no'. They need to resolve this fast.”

In May of 2015, casual dating website Adult Friend Finder was also hacked, as SC reported at the time.

Avid Life Media also operates sites called Cougar Life and Established Men, both of which appear to be intact and unaffected by this hack.

This story originally appeared on

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