FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the Internet.
The Ashley Madison site declares on its home page that "Life is short. Have an affair." The home page goes on to state that "Ashley Madison is the world's leading married dating service for discreet encounters." The site also boasts "over 38,050,000 anonymous members!" But how anonymous are those members, really?
People engage in all sorts of communications and transactions on the Internet. Generally, they like to believe that their personal information is handled confidentially. For example, if someone buys an item from Amazon, she hopes that her name, credit card information, and address will not be publicly disseminated.
Once in a while, there are security breaches, and, for example, credit card information can be obtained and used by others, purchasing items for themselves and not the credit card holder. The harm in this context to the credit card holder usually is not great. Usually, the credit card company will not hold the credit card holder responsible for the purchase. The credit card holder normally will have to go through the hassle of having that credit card cancelled and a new one issued. But this simply is a hassle, and not that big a deal.
Let's now talk about a potential big deal. It has been reported that Ashley Madison, the site where millions of people go to arrange extra-marital affairs, has been hacked, possibly compromising the personal information of its many users.
A hacker called The Impact Team claimed responsibility for the attack. The Impact Team threatened to release customer information publicly unless the Ashley Madison site and another site, Established Men, are shut down on the Internet.
Undoubtedly, people who have used the Ashley Madison site are worried about public disclosure of their private information showing that they have used the site. Not surprisingly, Ashley Madison has been trying to assure its users that it is taking all deliberate steps to protect them and to take action against the hacker.
Ashley Madison has a statement on its site that reads in part as follows:
"We were recently made aware of an attempt by an unauthorized party to gain access to our systems. We apologize for this unprovoked and criminal intrusion into our customers' information. We have always had the confidentiality of our customers' information foremost in our minds, and have had stringent security measures in place, including working with leading IT vendors from around the world.
"At this time, we have been able to secure our sites, and close the unauthorized access points. We are working with law enforcement agencies, which are investigating this criminal act. Any and all parties responsible for this act of cyber-terrorism will be held responsible. Using the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), our team has now successfully removed the posts related to this incident as well as all Personally Identifiable Information (PII) about our users published online."
Perhaps this hack attack will cause some people not to use the Internet to foster their infidelity. Maybe some will be deterred from such activities all together. Or, it is possible that some will carry on completely unfettered. And if personally identifiable information from the Ashley Madison site is disclosed, we might see an uptick in the divorce rate. It's possible that informatino from the hack could even be used as evidence in divorce cases.
Long story short, be careful out there in cyberspace.
Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.