When I heard that Ashley Madison had been hacked, I was not terribly surprised that it had happened. I was rather more surprised that anyone thought it to be a shocking event. Although hacking a major dating website does not happen every day, hacking as a cyber crime against intellectual property on the internet is not new.
Anyone who visits the internet leaves an electronic footprint of some sort. This blog will leave an electronic footprint of some sort. Which is why the naivety of people in the digital age who seem to think that their activity on the internet is visible to only those who the person concerned wants to see it, is frankly incredible.
Of greater concern is the fact that a cyber crime has been committed. An attack on internet based intellectual property has occurred, along with the theft of large amounts of private data. In that regard I sympathise with the owners of Ashley Madison, for as far as anyone on the internet could reasonably expect, they had a right to think that their customers data would be – at least – somewhat secure, and that their customers would feel safe about having that sort of data stored properly. But the fact of the matter is, Ashley Madison was always – and always will be – at some degree of risk.
Government agencies will be going through their staff no doubt to find out how the agency in question came to be linked to the website, and no doubt sternly worded all staff memorandums will be getting fired across e-mail systems warning of the consequences of getting caught. All well and good from a purely managerial perspective, but it raises a bigger question of just how secure those government data storage systems that really need to be online are from hack attacks. My suspicion is that the answer is “not very”.
Changes to laws surrounding internet access, harmful digital communications and privacy rights have all occurred in New Zealand in the last few years. Some of those changes have been vetted by Government select committees, which is well and fine, but given how little Members of Parliament seem to understand how the internet works, will those changes actually be for the better?
Ashley Madison users who are not currently trying to explain to their spouse what they were doing on the website – if they have any common sense – will be reviewing whether or not they still want to be associated with it. Ashley Madison’s owners will be wondering what the future holds for their website. Perhaps at the expense of the many who have used the website, before it gets subject to something worse, it might be not such bad idea reviewing whether or not the risk is really worth it.