It's virtually impossible to tap into any news outlet these days and not read more news about the recent hack of AshleyMadison.com, a website that aims to connect people looking to have an affair or cheat on their significant other.
Hackers who accessed the information of more than 37 million of the site's users threatened parent company Avid Life Media with publicly releasing data on the users if the site wasn't permanently shut down — and last week they followed through with that threat, making two huge online data dumps that released sensitive information such as names, email addresses, payment transaction information and even the sexual preferences and fantasies of the users.
- Related: Ashley Madison Hackers Follow Through with Threats, Release Sensitive info for Millions of Users Online
The fallout has been enormous, to say the least. Several prominent public agencies and figures have been scandalized in the data dumps, as it becomes known that thousands of the user accounts were allegedly linked to government and military email addresses in the U.S., Canada, Britain and even the Vatican. Several high-profile public figures have been outed as well, such as reality TV stars Josh Duggar ("19 Kids and Counting"), Jionni LaValle (married to Snooki from "Jersey Shore"), Josh Taekman (married to "Real Housewives of New York's" Kristin Taekman), Florida state's attorney Josh Ashton (who handled the infamous Casey Anthony murder trial) and even Hunter Biden, the son of Vice President Joe Biden.
In light of such fallout following the data dumps, a large group of Ashley Madison users are already filing lawsuits and attempting to achieve class-action status against Avid Life Media for failing to protect their confidential information as promised, reports a Dallas-based CBS News affiliate. Users in California, Texas, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee and Minnesota have already joined in.
- Related: Hacked: Ashley Madison, Website For People Who Want to Have Affairs Or Cheat
The Guardian reports that a man in California has filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for "emotional damage" as well as "negligence" and "invasion of privacy." The man, who filed the suit under the name John Doe, says Avid Life Media could have taken “necessary and reasonable precautions to protect its users' information, by, for example, encrypting the data," but failed to do so even though they collected users' money by promising to do so.
Avid Life Media this week offered a $500,000 Canadian reward - about $379,000 in U.S. currency — for any information leading to the identity of the hackers, according to TechCrunch.
What is the biggest risk victims of the Ashley Madison data breach face? Scams, says technology website Ars Technica.
The site reports that Ashley Madison users whose information was released as part of the data dump are being bombarded by everyone from would-be hackers, to lawyers and private investigators, and even cyber start-ups, all who promise seemingly helpful services.
"Now there's word of scam sites charging hefty fees to expunge the data of exposed members and attempts to extort people caught up in the privacy nightmare," Ars Technica reported this week.
The would-be scammers offer services such as investigating whether your significant other cheated via the site, or wiping all information that links you to the site, and some are just attempting to blackmail victims by threatening to tell friends, family and even employers that they used the site to cheat, if they aren't paid.
Ars Technica advises all to ignore such offers of services — because once something is on the Internet, it's impossible to completely scrub forever. Plus, they say it's not too difficult for a "motivated" individual to access what the hackers posted, so even if you pay off one blackmailer, several others could come in their wake.
"People who receive e-mails promising to delete records or extorting hush money should under no circumstances respond to the senders or pay any fees," Ars Technica warns. "Whatever damage has been done can't be undone. Responding or paying the fees will only make things worse."
The website Slate agrees.
"Though most of the damage has already been done, there is one thing people can do to mitigate further loss: Remember that the Ashley Madison data is already public (if slightly tricky to access)," staff wrote this week. "Don't believe anyone who says they can remove your information for a fee. It's too late."