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Ashley Madison cyber security breach could pose serious threat to victims

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While the subject of much unsympathetic tittering, the cyber security breach at Ashley Madison has sparked fresh fears of the risk of suffering a data hack.

Ashley Madison is a Canadian-based online dating service marketed at people who are married or in a long-term relationship. This month the personal details of around 33 million users were exposed after the website was hacked, including over a million Brits and some high profile figures such as Scottish Nationalist MP Michelle Thomson. In total 9.7 gigabytes of private information was stolen and placed on the Dark Web.

SC Magazine reported: “The leaked data includes the personal details of around 1.2 million Britons. Among them are 124 civil servants, 92 Ministry of Defence staff, around 50 police officers, 56 NHS workers, 65 local education and school staff, and 1,716 people at universities and further education colleges – 95 per cent of whom are reportedly male. There are also more than 14,000 US Government and military email addresses.”

Operating with the tagline “life is short, have an affair”, the cyber security breach has not garnered the same level of attention as other high profile incidents, such as the Apple iCloud hack last year.

However, Ashley Madison’s parent company Avid Life Media reminded people that it was a serious “act of criminality” and urged anyone with information about the hackers to step forward to help law enforcement. Moreover, it serves as an important reminder to other organisations – public or private – of the risk of their data being leaked online or stolen.

As James Maude, senior security engineer at Avecto, said: “At first glance, it may look like the Ashley Madison data leak will cause nothing more than embarrassment. But this type of sensitive personal information can be used by criminals to generate serious leverage against an individual, when combined with details released from other attacks.”

The American FBI has now joined the hunt for the hackers who exposed the names, postal and email addresses, partial payment card details and in some cases sexual fantasies of people registered on the site.

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