Lessons Learned from the Ashley Madison, er, Affair

ashley madison hack image

So, what are the takeaways from the Ashley Madison hack?

These tips are not to encourage adultery as they apply to any sensitive online accounts or sign-ups you’d like to keep private for whatever reason. For example, maybe you don’t want anyone ever finding out about your subscription to a chocolate chip cookie recipe website.

Don’t Use your Primary Personal Email Address

Keep your sensitive online accounts and sign-ups completely sealed off from your “normal” ones. Don’t use your everyday email account (or worse your email account for work) for any activities that could come back to haunt you.

Register a completely new and separate email account for such activities. Consider entering disinformation when signing up for it.

Top Tip – If you just need a disposable email account (for a single one-off use like a confirmation), you can use a temporary email address.

If the activities connected to this email address will be super sensitive, use a VPN (virtual private network) or free Tor browser (The Onion Router) when accessing the email account or any other sign-up accounts associated with it. This ensures that even your IP address (your online fingerprint) can’t be traced back to the real you.

Don’t Use Your Real Name

Easy to say, but isn’t that impossible if you have to pay?  Not at all. There are plenty of ways to pay for online services and goods without revealing your real name, such as gift cards or Bitcoin.

In combination with the email tips above, you can use anonymous payment methods and pay without ever revealing personally identifiable information.

If a sensitive service or good you are considering purchasing doesn’t offer anonymous payment methods, keep looking for an alternative that does.

Top Tip – Technically, Bitcoin isn’t anonymous, but it is certainly private enough to protect your identity from a similar scandal as the Ashley Madison breach.

Don’t Post Risqué Images or Videos of Yourself (esp Naked)

This seems an obvious one, but is a tip more honored in the breach. If you must post saucy pics or videos of yourself (and who musn’t?) use an editor to obfuscate any features that show it’s you. Pixelize your face or cover your eyes with a black rectangle (or other features of your appearance that give you away).

But also keep in mind that some of these obfuscating techniques can be undone or reversed so do the alterations manually rather than rely on a filter or preset in the editing software.

Assume that Everything you Do Online will (Eventually) be Disclosed

That may sound paranoid and keep you up nights, but this is increasingly becoming true.

Everything we do online is now being tracked, profiled, correlated, combined and stored in databases. Much of this activity is invisible to us and done by unscrupulous companies and unaccountable agencies.

You have no way of knowing how this information may be used in the future. That includes not knowing how it may be used against you or even to outright harm you.

Heck, even messages or files you encrypt are probably being saved somewhere by someone until the day the encryption can be cracked. So those potentially damaging messages and files that you hold on to thinking they are 100% safe because they’re encrypted may be easily cracked and decrypted 10, 5 or 2 years from now. Or maybe 6 months from now.

The more prudent approach is that if a message, image, video, document or other data could come back to haunt you, delete it, permanently.  A process called wiping.



April 21, 2023

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