News updates on the fallout of the AshleyMadison.com hacking have slowly trickled out. News broke of the breach even before the hacktivists at Impact Team actually did anything with the information, meaning the public was made aware of the potential problem long before the data dump became a reality. Then news of some high-profile cheaters was released, complete with names and resulting insincere public apologies. Finally, news surfaced that the AshleyMadison team may be just as guilty of hacking a dating site and stealing a database of usernames.
Through it all, there have been some not-so-innocent victims waiting anxiously to see what the impact on the rest of their lives will be. Reportedly, two members have already committed suicide, and still others face repercussions on the job for accessing the site from work and using work email addresses. And it’s not just reputations or marriages on the line; some 15,000 emails were .gov or .mil addresses, and adultery is actually a crime for active duty military personnel as it violates the Uniform Code.
But is there anything the victims could have done to protect themselves, other than the too-obvious answer of not being scumbags? While they couldn’t have stopped the breach–only AshleyMadison’s IT team, security team, and finally lawyers could have done that, which they didn’t–there are steps the members could have taken to protect themselves more fully.
1. Throwaway email address – At the risk of supporting illicit or illegal behaviors, there are good reasons to keep a separate “throwaway” email address for online registrations. Whether it’s just the hassle of being flooded with spam or the more serious issue of receiving phishing emails that infect your company’s network computers with viruses, users generally shouldn’t use their main email addresses for frivolous activities.
2. Use a VPN – While a VPN, or virtual private network, wouldn’t have stopped the hackers from finding the victims’ email addresses and releasing them, it would have prevented them from gaining IP addresses. Those unique IP addresses have already come back to haunt members who accessed the site from work. Even if a company can’t fire an employee for simply attempting to have an affair, they can certainly get rid of an embarrassing employee who violated company computer policy. FileHippo offers several great VPN solutions, including AutoVPNConnect, VyperVPN, and Hotspot Shield.
While the old saying “cheaters never win” is certainly proving to be correct here, it’s almost equally laughable how ignorant the victims of this hacking attempt have proven to be. It’s not enough that they were attempting to break their marriage vows and violate their partners’ trust, they proved how unaware they are about how the internet–and personal data protection–really works.