Ashley Madison was a way of having a “safe affair”, he said. Safe in the sense that he didn’t think it likely he’d be found out by his wife (he had his special browser, his secret email address). Also safe in the sense that he didn’t think anyone would get hurt.Since the leak Michael had not used Ashley Madison again nor spoken to the woman in the north. His wife, as of , had not found out about his affairs.
Relationships are fucking weird
“I think that history’s probably littered with examples of madams whose little black book went walking, you know what I mean?” said Brian Krebs. “But this was massive, en masse, on the internet. Who knows? Maybe we need privacy disasters like this to help us wake up.”
Kristen Brown thought it was important to take away a different instruction from the saga. That marriage is not one thing, and that the millions of users of Ashley Madison very likely had millions of different reasons for being on there. “There’s a vibe between two people that can’t be quantified. How to say what the right path is for any one pair? And they get weirder the longer they go on.”
In London recently I met with Troy Hunt. He’d flown in from Australia to teach a corporate course on internet security. We had lunch between morning and afternoon sessions in his classroom in Canary Wharf. While we ate Hunt showed me his phone – another email had just come in from someone requesting his help. Six months had gone by since the leak; the flow nejlepÅ¡Ã sex chodit s nÄ›kÃ½m weby of desperate messages had slowed but not stopped.
Hunt responded to this email the way he always did now, sending back a prewritten response that included a list of answers to frequently asked questions about the hack. Also that list of hotline numbers.
When we’d finished eating his teaching resumed. Two dozen people filed into the room with their laptops and sat quietly while Hunt lectured them about cyber security. He’d worked a contemporary lesson into his speech, and projecting an image of a now-infamous website on to a screen behind him, he said to the class: “Put up your hand if any of you have an account with Ashley Madison.”
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Whenever he visited the site he was careful. If he wanted to log on to Ashley Madison to speak to women he would only do so on a work laptop he kept in his office at home. Michael had six internet browsers installed on the laptop, and one of these browsers could only be loaded via external hard drive – this was the browser he used to arrange affairs. So Michael was “irritated and surprised” to realise, that Monday morning, that his elaborate precautions had been pointless. He tried to work out ways in which he would be exposed if the hackers went through with their threat to release Ashley Madison’s customer database.
So the masses sent spinning by the leak could not turn to ALM for advice. Most could not easily turn to their partners. Someone had to fill this enormous absence, hear grievances. Troy Hunt, a mild-mannered technology consultant from Sydney, had not expected it would be him.
Brian Krebs made efforts to understand the hackers, too. He’d never been able to figure out who first tipped him off, but he wondered at one point if he’d found a promising lead. In a detailed blog, published in late August, Krebs followed a trail of clues to a Twitter user who seemed to have suspicious early knowledge of the leak. “I wasn’t saying they did it,” Krebs told me, “I was just saying that maybe this was [a line of investigation] that deserved more attention.” He didn’t know if police forces investigating the case ever followed up on his lead. The Toronto force, to date, has announced no arrests. (When I asked, recently, if there had been any developments their press department did not reply.)
In August, the private detective industry reported, cheerfully, an uptick in business. Lawyers steered high-publicity legal actions against Ashley Madison – at least three plaintiffs in America wanted to sue – as well as seeing through quieter divorce claims. In Australia a DJ decided to tell a woman live on air that her husband was on the database. Members and former members began to be sent anonymous extortion letters. Michael received several. Pay us in seven days, he was threatened in one email, “or you know what will happen… You can inform authorities but they can’t help you. We are porfessionals [sic].” Michael was unnerved by the emails but ignored them. The world, in these small increments, got shabbier.
The hack of Ashley Madison was historic – the first leak of the online era to expose to mass view not passwords, not pictures, not diplomatic gossip, not military secrets, but something weirder, deeper, less tangible
“If you’re going to chat a woman up in a bar, or at a work conference, or wherever,” Michael told me, “then: ‘Hello, I’m married’ is not a good opening line. Whereas if you’re going on to a website like Ashley Madison – they know. But they actually start with honesty. Because you’re not pretending to be something you’re not.”