The World Wide Web can be full of joy but also it has its fair share of danger. Popular dating sites are no exception, which raises the question if Ashley Madison is a safe site. While it has been hacked in the past, I’ll explain what that means for its current condition. Here you will see the findings following an investigation of the Ashley Madison site by the FTC. Based on my experience investigating fraud and scammers, this article will explain if this site can be trusted.
Ashley Madison is not a safe site. In 2015, approximately 36 million users had their personal information exposed in a massive hack. An investigation found the site had negligently poor network security. The owners also engaged in fraudulent business practices including the creation of thousands of fake accounts.
What is Ashley Madison?
Ashley Madison is a dating website specifically for people looking to have an affair. This means one or both involving parties are in a current marriage. Not only are they both aware of each other’s status, but they are also specifically seeking such an arrangement. The only person this is a secret to is the spouse of these people.
Ruby Corp is the owner of the Ashley Madison website. They are also the owners of at least two other lesser-known websites relating to dating. This was not always their company name. Like any good chameleon, they shed their skin after a data breach tarnished their image. At the time of the incident, their name was Avid Life Media.
Another similar website you may or may not be familiar with is Adult Friend Finder (AFF). They also market themselves as a dating site bringing consenting adults together for a relationship. The major difference is their focus on no-strings-attached encounters. They do not focus specifically on affairs. However, it’s easy to assume affairs are plentiful there too.
How does it work?
The Ashley Madison business model is in contrast with the typical month-to-month subscription-based website. Instead, they use a credit system where users pay for these credits and spend them to complete actions. For example, members use them to start a conversation with someone they are interested in. Likewise, credits are spent for reading messages among other activities on the site.
Who is Ashley Madison?
I wish there was a more entertaining answer to who Ashley Madison refers to. Whenever I talk to someone who’s injured, I also ask out of curiosity how it happened. While expecting a great story about a hang gliding trip gone wrong, I’m usually disappointed. People hurt themselves in the most mundane ways. And the story of the inspiration for the name of the Ashley Madison site also disappoints. I was hoping for a tale of a beautiful socialite whose life was full of entertainment. Unfortunately, it was simply a name created out of thin air from two popular baby girl names in the early 2000s.
Ashley Madison Data Breach
In 2015, approximately 36 million members of the Ashley Madison site had their identities exposed. Think for the minute about the implications. Any data breach is terrible for exposing people’s personal information to the public and exposing them to potential scams. However, this hack also exposed people who were specifically trying to stay private due to the nature of their activities.
The hacker found a security vulnerability that the owner, Ruby Corp failed to detect and secure. Because of this, the information was simple to discover. Once the data was found, the hacker contacted the Ashley Madison website and warned them to close. In exchange for shutting down the site, the hacker agreed to prevent the release of the compromised member data.
Obviously, Ruby Corp refused to shut down the site as it was making them money. Most people refer to this type of hacking activity as hacktivism. Hacktivists typically have the goal of achieving social or moral good. Except for ethical hacking, this is different from most hacks that were usually for monetary gain. For example, the purpose of the Equifax data breach was simply to commit further scams. We have an Annual Credit Report article which goes into a little more detail about this breach if this is of interest to you.
As a result, Ashley Madison’s membership information was disseminated through Tor. This is a browser you can use to access the dark web. To learn more, read another article here at FixScam called Is Tor safe for Normal Browsing?
Identity of the Hackers
An Australian hacker is the prime suspect of this hack. He has a history of other hacks which is not proof but adds credibility. None of his past ‘work’ is notable. Here at FixScam I rather not put a spotlight on the scammer and rather focus on fixing the problem. So, I will refrain from naming him. I will also note the responsible hacker has not been proven and no charges are pending. Therefore, a presumption of innocence still exists.
The Fallout from the Ashley Madison Hack
As a result of the hack, the owners of the Ashley Madison site were subject to a lawsuit. This was for failing to protect their members’ information. They were also found liable for the fraudulent business. This including the creation of thousands of fake ‘bot’ accounts. These fake accounts were all supposed to be females who the owners used to communicate with male members. It sounds like the owners had a problem common in nightclubs. There were far too many men in the male-to-female ratio on the site. So, the owners hoped these fake bot accounts interacting with the members would maintain their interest.
Because of these fraudulent business practices, the owners saw better customer retention and more profit. This was due in a large part to members paying for the privilege of communicating with these fake female chatbots. In the end, the owners of Ashley Madison agreed to an $11.2 million dollar settlement. This agreement included paying back the members who they had originally charges to remove their information from the site. As the owners did not actually remove the information, the payers were due their money back.
When you own a website and people trust you with their financial and other personally identifiable information, it is your job to keep it secure. That is the main failure of these owners. What is far too common in these situations is these owners are in for more than what they originally bargained for. Most business owners strictly focus on making money. They know running a website can be very profitable. However, they do not have the interest or the knowledge to properly run the site. They collect people’s money along with their information.
Aside from the legal ramifications of the data breach, there are civil aspects as well. This includes divorce, personal and professional embarrassment, and potential exposure to scams.
Since email validation was not required for an address to be associated with the website, innocent people were caught in the mix. You could add an account with someone else’s email address as a prank or defame them. The real owner would not receive an activation email to validate and notify them. As a result, people on the list were subject to harassment for their alleged involvement. There were also reports of scams to include blackmail. A scammer with access to the affected email addresses would tell the person they would notify their family if a ransom was not paid.
How to Delete Ashley Madison Account
In order to delete your Ashley Madison account, you first need to log in. From there, navigate to the section of the site labeled ‘Manage Profile’. On that page, there will be a choice to either deactivate your account or a full delete. If you choose the deactivate option, your profile and data will remain on the site. This is a good option if you have a feeling the account could be of use to you in the future. That way you will not have to start all over and your preferences, contacts, and messages will be intact.
The full delete option promises the complete removal of all traces of your information. If we have learned anything from the major data breach, the creditably of this claim remains in serious question. At the end of the day, you may never know if the information is removed. However, you personally will not be able to access it again in the future.
Is Ashley Madison Safe?
No, Ashley Madison is not a safe site. There is an inherent risk to storing personal information online. When the mere presence of that information can lead to not only financial but emotional torment, the stakes are at their highest.
As a result of the massive data breach and part of the settlement with FTC, security improvements were mandated. The owners were also to implement a comprehensive data-security program including third-party assessments. It is the belief by some this past data breach makes them safer because of these fixes and awareness. The vulnerability is in the competence of the owners. Repeated offenses or a lack of addressing problems in the future could prove to be their downfall.
From the onset of the hack, the owners were misleading – to put it mildly. Part of their claim was the hacks were a result of cyber-terrorism. This type of activity is more in line with hacktivism. The hacker gave the owners advance notice of the release of information. What’s more, is there was a potential chance to prevent the leak by closing the site. Hacktivism is more focused on righting perceived wrongs than it is about financial gain or damage.
Continued Safety Concerns
Finally, another safety concern that I will mention briefly meeting people in real life that you met on the internet can be dangerous. Online dating has come a long way since its start. It had increased in popularity and more recently had not been considered exceptionally dangerous. Online dating can be safe if you follow standard safety practices.
One such safety practice is letting someone else know where you’ll be and who you’ll be with. An example where this became important was the murder by former NFL player Arron Hernandez. The victim sent a text message stating “with NFL” to an associate that notified them who the victim was with around the time of the murder.
What Does Ashley Madison Cost?
To start on the Ashley Madison website, there is a minimal charge of $49. This will give you access to 100 credits. From there, a sliding scale exists which makes it cheaper if you choose to purchase more credits. As you use the site, there is a cost of 5 credits to send or read a message from a potential mate.
Does Ashley Madison Work?
The short answer is the Ashley Madison website does work. There have been plenty of connections made as a direct result of the site. That is to say, the website is not a complete scam. But a better question would be is Ashley Madison worth it? It costs money just to talk to members of the opposite sex. And with the past deceptive behavior of the owners, it can be hard to tell if every conversation is legitimate or a waste of money. The old-school methods of meeting people are just as if not more effective.
Is My Husband on Ashley Madison?
The list above is some red flags that may give rise to your concerns about their fidelity. These are a basic guide and neither one nor all of these being true constitutes proof. The best thing you can do is have an open and honest conversation with your significant other. Voice your concerns. Try to avoid being accusatory so the other person does not shut down. This is especially important to avoid since they may be innocent. Instead, express how your suspicion affects you personally and describe how important the relationship is to you.
Most people can’t depend on the classic examples of staying late at the office or lipstick found on the collar. There may not be very many warning signs at all. Instead, try not to be paranoid. Not every contact with members of the opposite sex is cheating or a warning sign. Some things that appear suspicious are first could have a reasonable explanation if only you had the information available.
Work on trust within your relationship. Building a stronger relationship is the best defense against infidelity.
Ashley Madison List
Many people are curious if anyone they know were using the site. The originally leaked data included massive files. We are talking about many gigabytes that could take a long time to download and fill up your hard drive space fast. But some sites created searchable databases so that email addresses could be easily entered and checked against the list.
There are numerous websites that advertise this information, but there is only one that I trust. HaveiBeenPwned.com has been around for a long time and is run by a true professional. Best of all, the website will check to see if the information you provide is involved with any other data breach, not just the Ashley Madison hack.
Please keep in mind, any one of the emails listed in the hack list from the data breach could be present without the email address owner being aware. This is because email addresses were never validated by the owner of Ashley Madison when accounts were created. Meaning anyone could have used any address to create an account.
Why Does Ashley Madison Exist?
- Lack of Fulfillment
- The Heat of the Moment
This is not an exhaustive list but rather a brief look at some reasons people may turn to a site like Ashley Madison for an affair. First, someone may be unhappy in their current relationship. Instead of fixing the problem, they turn to a new relationship for comfort. Also, some cheaters are looking for a change or more excitement. If they have been married for a long time, the rush they once felt could be gone.
Another very plausible cause is the person is just not a good person. When one person is selfish, it can negatively impact many others. This is especially true when there are children in a now-torn relationship. Lastly, there is a chance a romance happens by circumstance. An honest mistake could have been made at the moment, but what is understood may still not be condoned.
Regardless of the excuse, avoid the reasons behind why someone cheats and deal with the reality that it happened. In most cases it is a sign it can happen again. The Ashley Madison website did not create or encourage affairs that would not have otherwise happened. Affairs have happened for years and through other means. This website only capitalized on its existence and generated revenue for the owners.
Ashley Madison is not a safe site. It was the target of a massive data breach in the past. Based on their promotion of adultery it is a likely target of hackers in the future. An extensive investigation was conducted by the FTC who found, among other issues, negligently poor network security. In addition, the owners engaged in fraudulent business practices by creating and using fake chatbots. If that is not enough, they were charging people to remove information from their site that should not have been there in the first place. And the kicker is, they still didn’t remove the information after accepting payment. All these problems combined are surely enough to classify it as an unsafe website.
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