TORONTO — At least two people may have committed suicide following the hacking of the Ashley Madison cheating website, Toronto police said on Monday, warning of a ripple effect that includes scams and extortion of clients desperate to stop the exposure of their infidelity.
Avid Life Media Inc, the parent company of the website, is offering a C$500,000 ($379,132) reward to catch the hackers.
In addition to the exposure of the Ashley Madison accounts of as many as 37 million users, the attack on the dating website for married people has sparked extortion attempts and at least two unconfirmed suicides, Toronto Police Acting Staff Superintendent Bryce Evans told a news conference.
The data dump contained email addresses of U.S. government officials, UK civil servants, and workers at European and North American corporations, taking already deep-seated fears about Internet security and data protection to a new level.
“Your actions are illegal and will not be tolerated. This is your wake-up call,” Evans said, addressing the so-called “Impact Team” hackers directly during the news conference.
“To the hacking community who engage in discussions on the dark web and who no doubt have information that could assist this investigation, we’re also appealing to you to do the right thing,” Evans said. “You know the Impact Team has crossed the line. Do the right thing and reach out to us.”
Police declined to provide any more details on the apparent suicides, saying they received unconfirmed reports on Monday morning.
“The social impact behind this (hacking) – we’re talking about families. We’re talking about their children, we’re talking about their wives, we’re talking about their male partners,” Evans told reporters.
“It’s going to have impacts on their lives. We’re now going to have hate crimes that are a result of this. There are so many things that are happening. The reality is … this is not the fun and games that has been portrayed.”
The investigation into the hacking has broadened to include international law enforcement, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security joining last week. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and Canadian federal and provincial police are also assisting.
Evans also said the hacking has spawned online scams that fraudulently claim to be able to protect Ashley Madison clients’ data for a fee.
People are also attempting to extort Ashley Madison clients by threatening to send evidence of their membership directly to friends, family or colleagues, Evans said.
In a sign of Ashley Madison’s deepening woes following the breach, lawyers last week launched a class-action lawsuit seeking some $760 million in damages on behalf of Canadians whose information was leaked.
Evans said Avid Life first became aware of the breach on July 12, when several employees booted up their computers and received a message from the infiltrators accompanied by the playing of rock group AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”
The company went to police several days later, he said, while the hackers went public on July 20.
The Ashley Madison hack…in 2 minutes
NEW YORK — Hackers have made public the private information of millions of users of Ashley Madison, which promotes itself as the go-to website for infidelity. Its motto: “Life is short. Have an affair.”
The hackers have also released financial information about the company that runs it, Avid Life Media, and the emails of its CEO. The hackers say they aren’t done yet.
Here are the latest developments in the Ashley Madison hack. Last updated: August 24, 6 am ET (10 am GMT).
1. Emails and other private information of some 15,000 U.S. government accounts are exposed. Among them: Multiple Department of Justice lawyers and an IT specialist for the Department of Homeland Security who used personal email accounts but accessed government computer servers.
2. The government accounts include some with .mil emails. Adultery is against the Code of Conduct for members of the U.S. armed forces. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says on August 20 that the Pentagon is investigating.
3. Spammers try to extort people whose information was made public. One group, for example, sends emails to Ashley Madison users demanding one bitcoin (around $225) to prevent information from being shared.
4. Several people directly affected by the data breach tell CNNMoney the stolen documents contain information that will be used in divorce proceedings. Exposed customers are concerned about getting fired from their jobs.
5. Avid Life Media, which owns the Ashley Madison website, tries to stop the spread of the leaked data. It issues copyright takedown notices to multiple sites that hosted or linked to stolen information, including Twitter.
6. The hackers release their third batch of stolen information on August 21, fixing a file containing Avid Life Media CEO Noel Biderman’s emails that had been corrupted.
7. Information containing Biderman’s emails is released on August 20, but the file becomes corrupted so it can’t be fully accessed by the public.
8. Two Canadian law firms say on August 20 that they have filed a $760 million suit against Avid Life Media. The lead plaintiff is described as a “disabled widower” who briefly joined the site after the death of his wife but never met anybody in person.
9. The stolen database of people who used Ashley Madison makes its way to the Web on August 19, making it easily searchable on several websites.
10. The first data dump is discovered on August 18. The hackers post the names, partial credit card numbers, email and physical addresses, and sexual preferences of 32 million customers on the so-called Dark Web, meaning they are public but hard to find for ordinary Internet users.
11. The hack is revealed by security expert Brian Krebs in a blog post on July 19. Hackers calling themselves the “Impact Team” say they will release sensitive data if the site is not shut down. Avid Life Media says on July 20 it is working with law enforcement in the United States and in Canada, where the company is based. “The criminal, or criminals, involved in this act have appointed themselves as the moral judge, juror, and executioner, seeing fit to impose a personal notion of virtue on all of society.”