Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in California..
This week, we learned that computer hackers are not only interested in exposing the dark secrets of U.S. foreign policy, or stealing consumers' credit information for profit.
Some hackers seek to impose a kind of vigilante justice on the shadowy world of a dating website like Ashley Madison. The site is geared for people seeking extra-marital affairs, and it has an engaging pitch: "Life is short. Have an affair."
Here's an early report on the breach from KrebsonSecurity, a top site specializing in the ever-growing threat posed by cyberattacks.
Large caches of data stolen from online cheating site AshleyMadison.com have been posted online by an individual or group that claims to have completely compromised the company’s user databases, financial records and other proprietary information. The still-unfolding leak could be quite damaging to some 37 million users of the hookup service, whose slogan is “Life is short. Have an affair.”
The hackers identified themselves as the Impact Team. Their online manifesto attacked a feature on the website that allowed users to approve a "hard-delete" of their personal profile, texts and photos for an additional fee.
The hackers claim this paid feature doesn't effectively do the job and the website is committing fraud by marketing the option.
Impact Team has imposed its own sentence as punishment for the infraction: the website's parent company, Avid Life Media, must take down the dating site for cheaters.
Until that happens, the hackers "will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses." KrebsonSecurity reported that the names of Ashley Madison customers have already been posted online.
Media coverage of the breach included the refreshing news that Ashley Madison, which has tried to mainstream its services, had previously been rebuffed by television networks, and by "[f]ootball stadiums and soccer teams [that] turned down sponsorship offers.," the New York Times reported.
Now, Avid Life Media is paying a penalty for the security breach, with its plans for an IPO that would help it secure more capital on hold, as investors balk.
A Wall Street Journal post explains the hitch for would-be investors: The valuation for web-based companies "typically comes from their ability to grow their user base."
How can Ashley Madison attract new customers now that old timers are running scared?
No one, except Avid Life Media's owners and early employees, will waste any tears for the postponed IPO, though we can hope that the fallout will lead some in the company to walk away and find more worthy employment.
Our sympathies belong with the millions of families that could be hit hard by the online posting of Ashley Madison's customers.
Yes, unfaithful husbands and wives — not the dating website — are solely responsible for their actions. They violated their marriage vows, lied to their spouses, and risked the happiness and stability of their children, should their extramarital affairs come to light.
At the same time, our cyberworld has made cheating a lot easier. Just as our computer keyboards have simplified the viewing of pornography, so they have improved our access to a smorgasbord of sexual relationships, from the high school sweetheart, who reaches out on Facebook many years after graduation, to the various hookup sites and ad camp;aigns that feature beautiful faces and sexy bodies, and whisper in our ear, "You don't have to settle, take what you deserve."
It is easy to imagine how the virtual world of iAdultery, a landscape of endless choices and seemingly remote consequences, can dull the conscience, and let its inhabitants believe that nothing has really happened when vows have been broken. For some, Ashley Madison exists on a different plain, a different planet.
But Impact Team has brought them back to earth. "Once something is published on the Internet," an expert tells The Times,"it’s there forever.”
Indeed, once you cheat on your husband or wife, the breach can't be scubbed away from your heart or your mind or your soul. You may be able to hide it from view, you may have a spouse who agrees to patch things up, but infidelity changes everything.
So now, as Ashley Madison's customers rush to choose the hard-delete option, let's pray that this security breach will produce a crisis of conscience, and not a search for a more secure website.
I'm hoping they get a second chance to recommit to their spouse, seek help with their marriage, and, as the Italian wife in the 1988 film, Moonstruck, tells her husband: "Get to confession."