Scams, Extortion Follow in Wake of Ashley Madison Hack

Exposed users of the adultery Web site, including thousands from the U.S. military and government officials, could be threatened by would-be extortionists.

TORONTO – The Ashley Madison hack, which exposed E-mail and other personal information of thousands of the adultery Web site’s users, is leading to a range of online fraud.

Consumers should be on guard against a number of scams, said Bryce Evans, acting staff superintendent of the Toronto Police Service, in a Monday (8/24) press conference to discuss the hack. Those include Web sites that promise to provide access to the leaked client names but instead deliver malware, as well as outright extortion by fraudsters seeking to capitalize on the potential embarrassment of people who had registered with Ashley Madison.

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“Criminals have already engaged in online scams by claiming to provide access to the leaked website. By clicking on the links, you are exposing your computers to malware,” he said.

The fallout comes after hackers last week exposed about 32 million names, E-mails and physical addresses of people who had signed up for Ashley Madison, which helps married people arrange extramarital affairs.

The Associated Press reports that hundreds of federal employees have tumbled out of the client base so far, and they hail from every corner of the federal bureaucracy, including the White House, congressional staff, and federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security.

The accounts include “at least two assistant U.S. attorneys; an information technology administrator in the Executive Office of the President; a division chief, an investigator and a trial attorney in the Justice Department; a government hacker at the Homeland Security Department and another DHS employee who indicated he worked on a U.S. counterterrorism response team.”

Employees from the departments of “State, Defense, Justice, Energy, Treasury, Transportation and Homeland Security” were included, along with others from “House or Senate computer networks.” There were hundreds of clients for the adultery network in the Defense Department, including some who worked at the Pentagon.

The AP notes that relatively few of these individuals actually used their official federal E-mail addresses; their identities were established using the payment transaction data included in the data dump.

The hackers, who call themselves the “Impact Team,” are now the focus of an investigation that so far has involved authorities in Canada, where Ashley Madison’s parent company is based, as well as U.S. agencies including the FBI and the DHS.

Ashley Madison’s parent company, Avid Life Media, is offering a $500,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of the people behind the hack, the Canadian police said on Monday.

While Evans didn’t disclose details about the investigation during the press conference, he warned consumers about the widening impact of the hack. Criminals are also running extortion scams, telling people that they can erase their names on the list in exchange for payment. One email that was highlighted by security expert Brian Krebs asked for 1.0000001 Bitcoins, or about $225.

There are two unconfirmed suicides that may be linked to the hack, Evans said. While he didn’t provide details about the deaths, the Daily Mail reported that a Texas police chief took his life after his official E-mail account was reportedly linked to an Ashley Madison account.

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