The recent attack on the affair-seeking site Ashley Madison exposed millions of users’ data to the world, followed shortly by those attempting to make money off the stolen data – blackmailing the users themselves, using some of the private data for phishing scams and other forms of identity theft, and more.
Status Labs, an online reputation management firm, describes the repercussions of the attack as longer-lasting than simple blackmail schemes. Attackers can decide both how and when they want to make use of the data, potentially leading to damage further on in the future, after the press buzz around the hack dies down.
The company recommends that people steer clear of suspicious offers to help hide one’s identity if one has used Ashley Madison – such sensitive data triggers an immediate response that is best left checked and observed before action is taken.
Users should remember that removal of their information from the source of the data is impossible. Once in the database, their information is there to stay, and promises to remove it or hide it are impossible to carry out.
Online reputation management companies like Status Labs help optimize a company’s search engine results, not hide data in a situation like the Ashley Madison hack. Their services are not geared toward manipulation of data itself as they are toward informing how data are presented to potential consumers – for example, what results from a Google search of their company or field will turn up.
Affected users should take steps to protect their identity in the future, such as changing passwords and not responding to any suspicious identity protection offers, rather than feed into the designs of those working with the stolen data.