The 33 million users of Ashley Madison, the paid, online service that connects people looking to cheat on their spouses, are left reeling after hackers released what they claim to be their personal information, including names, email addresses, phone numbers and partial credit card numbers.
According to Wired, the 10 gigabyte database file was released on BitTorrent and the dark web on Tuesday night. The file includes email and postal addresses, user descriptions, weight and height, encrypted passwords, partial credit card numbers and transaction details of users belonging to the website which bears the motto, "Life is short. Have an affair."
The hackers, known as the "Impact Team," demanded that Ashley Madison and its sister site Established Men, be taken offline back in July, threatening to release the personal information in 30 days if their conditions were not met.
"Avid Life Media has failed to take down Ashley Madison and Established Men. We have explained the fraud, deceit and stupidity of ALM and their members. Now everyone gets to see their data," said Impact Team in a statement released with the Ashley Madison data.
In response, Ashley Madison, which is owned by Avid Life Media, did not confirm whether the leaked data was legitimate, but said: "We are actively monitoring and investigating this situation to determine the validity of any information posted online and will continue to devote significant resources to this effort."
The company emphasized that the attack was not an act of "hacktivism," but rather one of "criminality."
"It is an illegal action against the individual members of AshleyMadison.com, as well as any freethinking people who choose to engage in fully lawful online activities," Ashley Madison said. "The criminal, or criminals, involved in this act have appointed themselves as the moral judge, juror and executioner, seeing fit to impose a personal notion of virtue on all of society. We will not sit idly by and allow these thieves to force their personal ideology on citizens around the world."
The Guardian reports that several security researchers have been analyzing the data and believe the database is real and contains the personal details of real Ashley Madison members.
"I've now spoken with three vouched sources who all have reported finding their information and last four digits of their credit card numbers in the leaked database," said Brian Krebs, who broke the news of the original hack.
Rob Graham, researcher from Errata security, agreed, stating that "it appears legit. I asked my Twitter followers for those who had created accounts. I have verified multiple users of the site, one of which was a throwaway account used only on the site. Assuming my followers aren't lying, this means the dump is confirmed."
Several Christian leaders have also weighed in on the incident, including evangelist Franklin Graham who took to Facebook back in July to remind members of the "adultery site" that it is futile to run and hide, as God already knows about their sins.
"The Bible says, 'be sure your sin will find you out,'" Graham wrote. "I have news for all those worried cheaters out there wringing their hands-God already knew!"
He also lamented that immorality has become "such big business." He charged, however, that while times may have changed, God's laws and standards remain the same--and those who violate such laws will have to pay for their sins in the end.
In an op-ed for conservative website juicyecumenism.com, journalist Rachel Williams took a slightly different approach, encouraging the church to use the Ashley Madison scandal as an "opportunity for the church to foster a dialogue about adultery, lust and the root issue of selfishness."
"It's an uncomfortable conversation but a necessary one," she wrote last month."Let's hope churches can utilize the hack of Ashley Madison as an occasion not to cast stones but instead come together and facilitate a vulnerable and transformative discussion about sexual brokenness. Perhaps then the gospel will be center stage as the church works towards wholeness in the pursuit of the life Christians are called to lead. This is a moment in time for honest conversations, accountability, forgiveness, the importance of repentance, submission to God and letting the Lord's grace transform us from the inside out."