What Happens the Morning After the ‘Ashley Madison’ Leak?

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Our recent entry on the current, and ongoing, Ashley Madison data leak — and its quite dramatic fallout — has prompted us to want to say a few more words on it, and some of the related subjects it brings to mind.

Back in the exceedingly recent, but somehow so much more naive times, of Christmas 2013 when retail giant Target had its credit card security breached, it all seemed like a long-standing possible worst fear had finally been realized.

From the Internet’s inception, e-commerce was an obvious goal. Of course. But even as online businesses began to pop up and thrive, most users had fears in the back of their minds, and many in the forefronts, regarding this newfangled Internet machine; trepidation regarding handing over financial information to an unknown third party. “You want me to share what?! With whom?! Just over a bunch of wires and cables?”

It all seemed a bit foolhardy. And in those earliest days, people surely did get ripped off. But eventually, honorable transactions became the norm, trust was built, and vendors and their security companies gained reputations as reliable. The exchange of such data online not only became commonplace, but the cornerstone of the Web’s, and to a large degree the nation’s retail economy.

We know we state the obvious and this all goes without saying, as this is the world we now live in. But we beleve there’s a value in pointing out the degree to which we take this all for granted.

Protecting our financial information is elementary, and you’d have to imagine one of the top priorities of nearly every online business and bank on Earth. The rash of credit card data leaks that occurred a couple of years back, however, was a sobering reminder that our systems are far from airtight, and that perhaps we’ve each put a bit too much trust into just how much of a priority all of these companies have made the security of our records; both online and off.

Sources far better qualified than we can expound at length on cyber-security, and debates regarding what information does or does not rightfully belong to the public (what we’ll call the “WikiLeaks” matter) are absolutely best staged elsewhere. But we feel expert enough to chime in on the fact that security is still far from airtight, and that we can each perhaps take an active role in protecting ourselves and our most private data individually.

People will not protect your privacy for you simply because “it’s the right thing to do do.” The honor system does not apply here. We’ve learned that the hard way, and this is where things tie back into the Ashley Madison matter. When the Sony email leaks occurred this past spring, the stories were repeatedly about the contents of the emails — 100% illegally, stolen emails; the contents to which were entirely none of our business — and not the emails themselves. There was some concern over who was behind the leak, of course, and whether or not it was an international incident, but virtually no concern over whether we as a public should be making it our business to read through the contents of thousands of stolen emails. Hundreds upon hundreds of think pieces were published regarding income inequality, racism, and sexism in Hollywood — all important and vital topics of conversation granted, but inspired solely based on information expressed in confidence in entirely stolen correspondence. That fact usually absent from these think pieces altogether.

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Without even breaking down any possible political motivations (as they vary wildly from actor to actor), there will always be a segment of the Internet that will simply want to see whatever’s intended to be locked away and protected, instead be exposed and shared with the world. These acts of hacking can seem motivated  by more than just merely “wanting to watch the world burn,” and can be part of a legitimate crusade (however misguided) or an act of conscious activism .  While we’d argue they’re not the most righteous target, when going after a site like Ashley Madison – which most, at best, view as at least kind of obnoxious — it could be construed as a blow for marital fidelity. In these instances, you have more than just mountains of potentially life-destroying data made public, you have a segment of the population who somehow morally feels entitled to learn whatever secrets it holds.

We personally believe this is an incredibly dangerous point of view, as how long may it take until your closet’s skeletons slip out because some kid in a Guy Fawkes mask believed — for whatever moral reasons entirely of his own choosing — that this private behavior of your own was the world’s information to know.

This is why it’s always important to pay attention to what you make public, what you want public, and what private information you would not want connected to your public profile.

The Ashley Madison hackers could have been bored kids, wiseguy anarchists, disgruntled husbands, or state sponsored bad actors actively looking to blackmail American statesmen. Whatever the case, just because the users of Ashley Madison could be argued to be, say, sleazy, it does not mean their privacy is not to be every bit as respected and protected as our own. Would you want all your Internet activity on the cover of the New York Times, after all?

As we suggested in our last piece, the Internet is a miracle. We truly believe it is one of the greatest things to ever happen to mankind. But it is very serious business.

A strong and singular online identity reaching across all major social Web platforms is just great practice in our modern world. It’s nearly a necessity, even. This belief is one of PeekYou’s central tenets.  In both personal and professional life, it is just good sense to secure your own identity and write your own narrative. You’re going to exist online anyway — with school, work, taxes, marriage, arrests, court cases, even birth, you name it — it makes far more sense to call the shots on how you’re portrayed. Own your identity, don’t let it be generated randomly. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc., allow you to tell your own story and carve out your own distinct space, it’s an unprecedented opportunity in our extraordinary modern world.

Even in those spheres, however, you can be smart about how and what you share about yourself.

Not everything about you needs to belong to cyberspace, and in certain cases — like, as we said before, signing up to join a website where you’re looking to cheat on your wife (which, as we’ve stressed before, we do not endorse) — you may want to hold a little back, perhaps make extra efforts to use an alias or obscure your identity.

Use commonsense…

While it may be not only convenient, but necessary to have funds accessible electronically, it needn’t always be an account attached to one’s vast holdings; or indeed associated with any money at all beyond the small amount needed to pay that particular vendor. For certain accounts — particularly those where you’re not merely seeking to protect your holdings, but perhaps your identity — prepaid cards might, for example, make perfect sense.

Encrypted passwords, wherein you combine lowercase and uppercase, add symbols, and undecipherable gibberish are always good practice. And alternate, proxy email addresses — Gmail, Yahoo, etc., will let you create infinite addresses after all — that are in no way traceable back to you might come in handy sometimes too. Depending on the life you lead, such “burner” email addresses can be essential.

Doing what we do here at PeekYou, you have to understand that we believe strongly in existing, and being identifiable, and locatable on this miraculous World Wide Web. But we’re also big believers in being safe. And you know what? Having fun, too. Part of the key to that is remembering that not everything is everyone’s business.