Why The Ashley Madison Hack Matters To Everyone

by Melissah Yang

While the mass dump of stolen user information from one cheating website might seem like the perfect fodder for scathing jokes and moral criticism, the reality is the Ashley Madison hack matters to everyone who's ever signed on the Internet and logged into an account. The hackers, going by the name The Impact Team, claimed the move was to force the site, which allows people to covertly find sexual hookups outside their marriage, to permanently shutter. And after nearly a month since the files were stolen, the hackers appeared to deliver on their threat Tuesday, releasing information on 36 million accounts that included email addresses and home addresses and 9 million credit card transactions and payments.

Just think for a second how many accounts you use on a daily or even a weekly basis. Gmail, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix — these sites could give hackers a deep look into your personal life, from credit card purchases to your birth date (which often is one of the security questions for resetting passwords). If you do online banking, your bank has your Social Security number stored somewhere.

Facebook, in particular, has done a tremendous job in making itself an integral part of your online habits. Facebook Connect lets third-party developers make their website Facebook-friendly so you can log in using just your own blue-and-white account. It makes things extremely convenient for you since you've only got to remember one password, but it also makes your Facebook account the master key to these other sites. If that ship goes down, so does everything else.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with the mission of the cheating site, the principle of secure and private Internet usage is the same. Everyone deserves protection against cyberattacks and should feel safe providing information and accessing any website or forum. That's the stance parent company Avid Life Media took when it released a statement Tuesday, condemning the attack and the mass release. Avid Life said these were "illegitimate acts that have real consequences for innocent citizens who are simply going about their daily lives."

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.

Last year's Sony hack felt like a movie-made drama as details of botched shoots and celebrity feuds emerged. To many, that attack felt much more removed from the everyday person. After all, the hack involved celebrity A-listers like Channing Tatum and Angelina Jolie and Hollywood insiders like Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin. Those weren't "real people," right? But they deserved the same privacy just as you'd expect, and there were also tens of thousands former and current Sony employees whose Social Security numbers and home addresses, among other things, were leaked. That could have been you.

Whether Ashley Madison or Sony, these are real situations where people's livelihoods and lives are in danger. Look past questions of infidelity and lifestyles these people chose to make, and instead realize that no one, including yourself, is safe from a massive hack. The Internet opened the door to so much information and has become a lifeline in today's digital world, but in the process, we've sacrificed any notion that our personal lives are private. It was a trade-off that, in hindsight, was a costly deal.

Image: Pexels