The news has been everywhere about the recent hack of the Ashley Madison suite of websites. The data of potentially 37 million users rests in the hands of hacker group “Impact Team” that obtained records from Avid Life Media group. “Avid Life Media has been instructed to take Ashley Madison and Established Men offline permanently in all forms,” failure to comply and “we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.”
What is not being talked about is the much more significant stakes following this bold move. News outlets around the globe from two-bit blogs to CNN have covered the story – with many wondering if the threat would amount to more than a bluff. Earlier today, the details on two subscribers were released. The expert hostage negotiators are now on scene.
While most websites focus on explaining what Ashley Madison is to a shocked populace – some of that shock surely feigned – this story will have lasting impact that reaches far beyond its end. This is the first example of high stakes digital hostage taking in a cyber age. Why hold up a bank when you can hold up people in their own homes? The hacker group has displayed as of yet the highest form of intelligence with how the ordeal has been handled. They chose a target no one wants to defend, with victims most would like to see outed.
The digital hostages now lay rounded up in a tight group, wondering who will be next if Avid Life Media fails to comply with demands. They didn’t release all the names, since the goal is not to metaphorically shoot hostages. Through this bold take on moral policing – the target is the website itself. Impact Team didn’t release even a hundred names today, as they well likely could have. They moved chess pieces as a calculating digital incarnation of Hans Gruber, in total control of the situation – disposing of two of those hostages just to show that they are serious. If Avid Life Media chooses to see another dawn with domain names intact, what comes next will surely be much messier.
If Impact Team is forced to reveal the extent to what they hold, the news world will be rocked by an untold collection of simultaneous divorces, law suits, and suicides. One can expect that lawyers are scrambling in preparation to counter sue Avid Life Media to provide restitution for said damages. In short, lives, careers, and relationships will be ablaze. Avid Life Media has already almost certainly seen recent IPO aspirations crumble to dust. One can also place bets as to whether or not the company survives much longer regardless of what comes next.
The fallout will dwarf any impact Avid Life Media ever held in this saucy story once the dust settles. If ALM fails to acquiesce, they could likely be shut down by litigation and lost reputation in due time. If they do choose to shut down, they will have sent a message that can and will kick off a spree of hackings worldwide – inspired by this sort of successful digital hostage taking. The pickle for ALM is that caving now would be creating a victory not so much for Impact Team, but for hackers worldwide. They will have proved that hackers have power over corporate interests and the means by which to force their own will. Choosing to stand as bastion for corporate interests could see a price paid by ALM’s very own customers. It is the absolute definition of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. To make matters worse, Impact Team is well aware of the law enforcement agencies now sicced on them – which is like telling the hostage holder that SWAT is on the way in. Even if they were to get close enough to the hackers, one can absolutely expect them to take every single hostage under their thumb with them.
This is a story to watch with absolute interest as to what will unfold and what it will mean for the next chapter of the digital age. Avid Life Media is a downright scam anyway – previously charging users to delete data from a site overrun by fake profiles and sex workers. Cheaters be damned, but life and this story are far more complicated than a single moral position within this puzzle. The genie is out of the bottle, and this is exactly why the government fears a free and open internet. The idea that a gun can protect from a corrupt government toting drones is downright laughable – the new weapon for resistance and high-stakes crime is called WIFI.