Who Are The Hackers Behind Ashley Madison?

by Lauren Barbato

One month after the dating site for extramarital affairs (aka cheaters) was hacked, Ashley Madison is investigating the leaked customer information that surfaced online late Tuesday. Nearly 10 gigabytes of stolen information — the veracity of which has yet to be confirmed by the company — was released by an anonymous hacking group known as the Impact Team. The group had previously threatened to leak the personal information of 37 million Ashley Madison users if the company didn't shut down. The Impact Team attached a statement to its torrent file during the leak, claiming that because the site remains online, the privacy of its customers now suffers. "Avid Life Media has failed to take down Ashley Madison and Established Men," it reads. "We have explained the fraud, deceit, and stupidity of ALM and their members. Now everyone gets to see their data."

The released data includes the real names, personal addresses, and credit card transactions of Ashley Madison customers, as well as intimate details about the customers' sexual fantasies. The Impact Team hinted that it had all this information last month, when it published sample screenshots with its ultimatum for ALM.

The Impact Team's statement went on to say:

Keep in mind the site is a scam with thousands of fake female profiles. See ashley madison fake profile lawsuit; 90-95% of actual users are male. ... Find yourself in here? It was ALM that failed you and lied to you. Prosecute them and claim damages. Then move on with your life. Learn your lesson and make amends. Embarrassing now, but you'll get over it.
Carl Court/Getty Images News/Getty Images

So, what is the Impact Team? The anonymous hacking group has a powerful vendetta against Ashley Madison, as well as Avid Life Media's other dating company, Established Men. The hackers did not target Cougar Life, a dating website for "cougar(s) looking to meet a young stud," which is also owned by ALM.

When news of the security breach came to the media's attention in July, the group's manifesto quickly surfaced online. According to security journalist Brian Krebs, who first reported on the hack, the manifesto claimed that Ashley Madison lied about its "full delete" service, which allows customers to completely remove their profile information for a $19 fee. Said the Impact Team:

Full Delete netted ALM $1.7mm in revenue in 2014. It’s also a complete lie. Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real name and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed.

The hacking group also announced itself to the world as Ashley Madison's "worst f--king nightmare," and left this ominous message for Ashley Madison executives:

We are the Impact Team. We have taken over all systems in your entire office and production domains, all customer information databases, source code repositories, financial records, emails ... Shutting down AM and EM will cost you, but non-compliance will cost you more.
Carl Court/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In a statement on Tuesday, Ashley Madison said that it's "actively monitoring and investigating this situation," having confirmed the hack and ensuing leak of information. The company denounced the Impact Team's message, saying there is nothing righteous about the hack:

This event is not an act of hacktivism, it is an act of criminality. It is an illegal action against the individual members of, as well as any freethinking people who choose to engage in fully lawful online activities. The criminal, or criminals, involved in this act have appointed themselves as the moral judge, juror, and executioner, seeing fit to impose a personal notion of virtue on all of society. We will not sit idly by and allow these thieves to force their personal ideology on citizens around the world. We are continuing to fully cooperate with law enforcement to seek to hold the guilty parties accountable to the strictest measures of the law.