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Ashley Madison hack could out cheating spouses to the whole world

Rebecca Bracken is a news and views writer.






Cheating site Ashley Madison users' private information held hostage by hackers

Ashley Madison is a dating site for married people who want to have secret affairs. But things have just gotten very un-secret for its users.

Ashley Madison’s more than 37 million users woke up Monday to the news that the site has been hacked and their very sensitive cheater profiles could be made public if the hackers’ demands aren’t met.

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The hackers, who call themselves The Impact Team, say they’re angry about a service from Ashley Madison called “full delete," which advertises that the site will totally erase a user’s profile for a $19 fee. It's a service the hackers say they think is bogus. The hackers are demanding Ashley Madison be taken offline permanently or, they say, they’ll release the stolen user profiles, with names, addresses, credit card information and even a detailing of the users' sexual fantasies.

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For its part, Ashley Madison says it has secured the site and is working to find the hackers.

Today’s attack comes just weeks after similar site AdultFriendFinder’s security was breached and the site’s 64 million users’ extremely personal and sensitive information was up for grabs.

The lesson here is that no matter where you’re posting your most private thoughts, the chance that they will eventually see the light of day is probably a lot higher than you think. In fact, in 2014, according to CNN Money, nearly half the adults in the U.S. had their personal information breached by hackers.

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So what can you do? The most important thing to recognize is that nothing online is ever really secure, so going on sites like Ashley Madison and AdultFriendFinder and spilling your guts is a gamble under any circumstances.

And while you can't prevent site hacks, you can step up your game when it comes to personal cyber safety: Always make sure you have a strategy to set and maintain strong passwords for your accounts. Make them long, use weird symbols, and make them phrases so they're easy to remember.

Another security measure that's important even though it's a hassle is your accounts' two-step verification process. Google has this, forcing you to enter a password first and then to reconfirm, most typically based on a PIN texted to your phone. When this is in place, hackers need to breach your data across multiple devices, which is pretty tricky to do.

Finally, be very careful on public Wi-Fi networks. Hackers can use these unsecured networks to lift your personal information or distribute malware to infect your device. When you're in a public place, security experts at Kaspersky Lab suggest turning off your Wi-Fi and the sharing features on your phone to avoid people accessing your device on a network.

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