The Darker Side of Hacktivism

When word broke that hackers broke into and released names of users of Ashley Madison, a website geared to enabling extramarital affairs, the internet was ablaze. The hackers, known only as the Impact Team, claimed two motivations for releasing the names and billing addresses of the sites 32 million customers:

  • Attacking the site for its morally questionable mission of arranging affairs between married couples
  • Protesting the company’s business practices, which included a $19 dollar charge to have user data “scrubbed” from the site. Obviously, it wasn’t.

The story got even juicier when conservative mouthpiece and family values advocate Josh Duggar was revealed to be one of Ashley Madison’s users. The internet could hardly contain its glee at the hypocrisy. Several weeks and a $500,000 dollar bounty later, the story is still getting plenty of press time.

The fallout from the hack tells us that the victims of the Ashley Madison hack are exactly that- victims.

Unintended Consequences

At least two suicides have been linked to the Ashley Madison attack. This impact goes beyond exposing immoral behavior, it’s now affecting partners and children who have to cope with the loss of a spouse or parent. This kind of news vilifies the hacktivists more than the users of the site.

The Golden Rule

Just about everyone has data on the internet that they would rather keep hidden. Whether its payment information, search history, or delving into the more unsavory, everyone should have the right to some modicum for internet security. It’s an interesting ethical conundrum that is catching the attention of scholars worldwide. We can boil it down to simpler terms though: don’t go snooping into other people’s personal information if you wouldn’t want them snooping into yours.

Hacktivism cloaks itself in the veil of moral superiority and social justice, but the jury is still out on whether or not this is the case. Either way, it provides an interesting platform to discuss cybersecurity and should make us think twice about how we conduct ourselves online.

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