Ashley Madison hack yet to spur changes in web security

TORONTO -- Far from the wake-up call some expected, the data breach that aired the personal dealings and financial information of Ashley Madison clients has yet to spur concrete changes in web security or the online dating industry.

See Full Article

Months later, technology experts say public interest in the hack that once made global headlines has faded -- and so has the incentive for companies to beef up their information security.

Nor has the incident proved a death knell for Ashley Madison or its parent company, Avid Life Media, though the adultery site's fate remains uncertain and its operations shrouded in secrecy.

The company would not comment, saying only that it "continues to have strong fundamentals with tens of thousands of new members joining AshleyMadison.com every week."

"As for 2016, we look forward to the continued successful operation of AshleyMadison.com, and the rest of our brands at Avid Life Media," spokesman Paul Keable said in an email.

Its founder and former CEO, Noel Biderman, who stepped down in August, did not respond to interview requests.

A resume-style website bearing his name describes him as "a Canadian entrepreneur, former lawyer, sports agent and business marketing and operations specialist," but makes no mention of Ashley Madison or Avid Life Media.

This summer's data breach fuelled a worldwide debate on infidelity and spawned a criminal investigation, a probe by Canada's privacy commissioner and at least one proposed national class-action lawsuit, although it's yet to be certified.

Yet aside from the titillation and moral outrage associated with the adultery site, the Ashley Madison leak was no different than any other significant breach, said Carmi Levy, a technology analyst based in London, Ont.

"Every time there's a major security breach of any kind, there's a whirlwind of activity around it, everyone becomes indignant, everyone talks about it, everyone worries, there's chaos and of course there are promises flying left, right and centre," he said.

But as the crisis fades, many of those promises are unfulfilled, Levy said.

"We get back into the day-to-day...and improving security infrastructure and changing processes to keep the bad guys out simply becomes a lower priority, and in many cases, it simply never filters to the top of the priority list -- until the next crisis occurs, and then the same cycle repeats anew."

That same cycle plays out in online dating, which collects highly personal information while being plagued by fraud and other pitfalls, said David Evans, a Vermont-based industry consultant and analyst behind the trade blog Online Dating Insider.

"Everybody's been hacked, it's whether it's been publicized or not -- I think that's the standard now," he said, adding the dating industry is just one of many targeted by cyber-criminals.

Companies will spend money to tighten security if they can find a way to profit from it, but investments into other services such as in-app purchases are better suited to boosting revenue, he said.

While the Ashley Madison leak likely led some to rethink their membership with the site or its competitors, overall, the industry is thriving, he said.

In the U.S., online and mobile dating account for roughly three-quarters of the $2.4-billion dating services industry, according to an IBISWorld report issued after the hack. A similar report issued before the leak found online and mobile dating took about the same share of Canada's $153.1-million dating services industry.

With several other sites in its portfolio, Avid Life Media will likely bounce back as well, Evans said, though he suspects the incident caused "a huge revenue dent" in addition to the loss of its top executive.

But another expert says the publicity stemming from the breach may work in the company's favour.

"This is anecdotal but I spoke to somebody and they said to me that they were joining Ashley Madison because it was more secure now," said Patrick Malcolm, a digital forensics and security expert with the Ottawa consultancy firm Netrunner Inc.

After the July hack, Biderman told journalist Brian Krebs, who first reported on the breach, that it appeared to be an inside job, though not by a current employee.

Ashley Madison said it had managed to secure its sites and "close the unauthorized access points." The Toronto cyber-security firm hired to audit the source code said it didn't appear any software vulnerabilities had been exploited.

However, there's no evidence the company has actually changed its protocols, Malcolm said.

"They knew it was an insider so there's no reason for them to do anything to their website, which is the reason why I don't think it's changed," he said.

"Maybe they've tightened up a few practices, but again, this is the kind of thing that receives attention only when it's a screaming baby. After the baby's not making any noise, everybody goes back to what they were doing. That's the typical response."



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • NASA's Juno spacecraft stuck in long orbits around Jupiter

    Tech & Science CBC News
    NASA's Jupiter-circling spacecraft is stuck making long laps around the gas giant because of sticky valves. It currently takes Juno 53 days to fly around the solar system's biggest planet. That's almost four times longer than the intended 14-day orbit. Source
  • Video feed of giraffe birth briefly removed after labelled 'sexually explicit'

    Tech & Science CTV News
    HARPURSVILLE, N.Y. -- The owner of a New York zoo planning to live-stream a giraffe giving birth says the video feed was briefly removed from YouTube because animal rights activists labeled it sexually explicit. Animal Adventure Park started streaming video Wednesday of 15-year-old April in her enclosed pen at the zoo in Harpursville, more than 200 kilometres of New York City. Source
  • NASA's Jupiter-circling spacecraft stuck making long laps

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA's Jupiter-circling spacecraft is stuck making long laps around the gas giant because of sticky valves. It currently takes Juno 53 days to fly around the solar system's biggest planet. Source
  • SpaceX docks with International Space Station following delay

    Tech & Science CBC News
    SpaceX has made good on a 400-kilometre-high delivery at the International Space Station. Astronauts captured SpaceX's Dragon cargo ship Thursday, a day after a GPS problem prevented the capsule from coming too close. The navigation error was quickly fixed, and everything went smoothly the second time around. Source
  • SpaceX makes good on space station delivery a little late

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- SpaceX made good on a 400-kilometre-high delivery at the International Space Station on Thursday, after fixing a navigation problem that held up the shipment a day. Everything went smoothly the second time around as the station astronauts captured the SpaceX Dragon cargo ship as the two craft sailed over Australia. Source
  • Climate change doubling size of northern lakes, pushing bison off habitat

    Tech & Science CTV News
    New research suggests that climate change has mysteriously caused lakes in a northern protected area to nearly double in size, forcing a herd of at-risk bison off some of their best habitat. Lakes in the Mackenzie Bison Sanctuary off the northwest shore of Great Slave Lake are now bigger than any time in at least the last 200 years, said Josh Thienpont, a University of Ottawa scientist and a lead author on th e paper, published Thursday in the journal Nature. Source
  • Canadian Wildlife Federation wants Ottawa to protect prairie grasslands

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The Canadian Wildlife Federation wants Ottawa to stop turning over community pastures to the Prairie provinces because of concerns it has about species at risk. In 2013, the previous Conservative government began a plan to transfer control of 900,000 hectares of community pastureland to Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta by 2018. Source
  • Cool facts about 7 Earth-size planets circling single star

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Talk about an Earth-shattering discovery. Scientists have spotted seven Earth-size planets around a nearby star, some or all of which could harbour water and possibly life. That's the biggest cluster of planets like this yet to be found. Source
  • Apple 'spaceship' headquarters readies for boarding

    Tech & Science CTV News
    The process of moving more than 12,000 people to a new campus that Jobs envisioned as a "center for creativity and collaboration" was expected to continue late into the year. A theater on the new Apple Park campus was named in honor of Jobs, who would have turned 62 on Feb. Source
  • 'Scared to death:' Study finds Arctic killer whales intimidate narwhal

    Tech & Science CTV News
    A study has concluded that the increased presence of killer whales in Arctic waters is intimidating narwhal into drastically changing their behaviour. It's another symptom of how climate change is remaking the delicate northern environment. Source