Marriage and Cheating in the internet age



This week's issue (No. 24): 
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"Your cheatin' heart, will make you weep..."
- Hank Williams

In this issue:

1. Sliding Doors: Rubbernecking in the Ashley Madison Era (to look or not to look, that is the question) - Medium

2. The Real Human Suffering of the Hack (emails from Ashley Madison users show their fear and pain) -

3. The Edge of Your Seat Mystery of Who Hacked Ashley Madison (and why tweets about AC/DC give a clue - Fascinating) - Krebs on Security

4. Why the Ashley Madison Hack Should Scare You Too (Hint: No one's data is safe) - New York Magazine

5. It's a Man's World (Looks like nearly 100% of the active users of Ashley Madison were men) - Gizmodo

6. Wall Street Loves a Cheater (a profile of the company two years ago and its wild economic success) - Newsweek
In conclusion: The Story of Danny and Annie (after these saddening reports, I close this letter with a humble but gorgeous story of true love) Scroll to the end. 

editor's note:
The weekend reader is about the people, ideas, and trends that make our culture today.

I try not to be news-y and focused on specific events. The 24-hour news cycle doesn't lend itself well to wisdom. Instead I prefer looking at bigger ideas and examining them from different perspectives. 

Not this week. Today, I'm thinking about a single event, the Ashley Madison hack, and what it is saying about our attitudes towards marriage, privacy, information security, the difference between men and women, and the values of the market. 

If you're not familiar, Ashley Madison is (was) a site for married people to discreetly meet each other for affairs. It had more than 30 million members. A month ago the site was hacked and in recent days the email addresses, names, credit card numbers and illicit messages on the site were made public by the hackers. The fallout is just beginning.

If you are wrestling with the idea of what marriage is, should be an can be, the best resource I know is this talk that the Rev. Tim Keller gave at Google a couple years ago. Check it out. 
 And don't miss the sweet video at the end of this either. It will do something to restore your hope.

Read wisely. Read widely.
Sliding Doors: Rubbernecking in the Ashley Madison Era
by Maxwell Andersoin Medium || Article Link
(8 minute read)
This isn't the first time private information has been hacked and released to the public. In most hacks we've seen, the main damage to most people was the hassle of having to change credit cards. The Ashley Madison hack will affect far more people and release far more personal information.

The question is what will people do with the data? What are the right and wrong reasons to look through the hacked Ashley Madison data? In this piece, I suggest a few better and worse reasons and urge restraint on our knee-jerk curiosity. 

The Real Human Suffering of the Hack
by Troy Hunt in  || Article Link
(27 minute read)
Troy Hunt is an internet security researcher who created a site to check if your personal info has been compromised in an online hack (from TJMaxx to Ashley Madison). Dealing with users of his site has given him unique insight.

I found myself in somewhat of a unique position last week: I’d made the Ashley Madison data searchable for verified subscribers of Have I been pwned? (HIBP) and now – perhaps unsurprisingly in retrospect – I was being inundated with email. I mean hundreds of emails every day with people asking questions about the data. Not just asking questions, but often giving me their life stories as well."

Upon hearing about the hack, the first reaction many people have is "Good! Serves 'em right!" This was my first reaction too. When I read these emails (anonymized by Hunt) I just felt sad. 

Who Hacked Ashley Madison?
By Brian Krebs in KrebsOnSecurity | Article Link
 (9 minute read)

Brian Krebs broke the story about the Ashley Madison hack. He is one of the world's foremost experts on internet security. "The Impact Team," who claimed responsibility for the hack, contacted him about it first. In this post, Krebs explores the secret Impact Team and who they might be.

This is engrossing. It is like a real-time unsolved mystery unfolding as you read. Krebs is a clever detective and thinks he has a lead in the manhunt - a twitter user who goes by the name of Thadeus Zu. Despite tweeting hundreds of times a day over the years about his various hacks Zu remained assiduously careful not to reveal his identity. Except for a couple of things, one of them being his love of AC/DC. And that might be the smoking gun...

Avid Life employees [the company that owns Ashley Madison] first learned about the breach on July 12 (seven days before my initial story) when they came into work, turned on their computers and saw a threatening message from the Impact Team accompanied by the anthem “Thunderstruck” by Australian rock band AC/DC playing in the background."

Why The Ashley Madison Hack Should Scare You Too
by Heather Havrilesky in New York Magazine || Article Link 
(5 minute read)
"At the exact moment when citizens worldwide should be noticing that we're all living in glass houses, many of us are picking up stones instead."

Havrilesky's piece is a rejoinder to the knee-jerk impulse many have had to applaud the AshMad hackers. You might be glad that a site like this is going to be shut down. Put that aside for a moment. Instead, step back and ponder what this event tells us about the security of all our data.

From what I've read, AshMad's security was actually strong compared to most sites, but still they were compromised. Given that, what makes you think that all of your digital info won't be public sometime too? 

"Anyone with an email account, a credit card, a Wi-Fi connection, or health records online is exposed," notes Havrilesky. "...It's only a matter of time before regular mortals who don’t think they’ve sinned at all, beyond harshly criticizing their bosses or lamenting their meddling mothers-in-law, are exposed along with the easier targets."

Is that so bad? Havrilesky argues it is. "The root issue is simple: When the public is patrolled by a mob, the consequences are dire for everyone involved."

It's a Man's World
(Almost None of the "women" in the Ashley Madison Database Ever Used the Site)

by Annalee Newitz in Gizmodo || Article Link 
(12 minute read)

This is another amazing piece of journalism. The author, Newitz, examined the database of users and found evidence of only 12 thousand of the 5.5 million "female" profiles with any activity at all. The rest, she speculates, were "bots" created by the company to entice the men. Lots of interesting facts here. Worth reading the whole article. Here's a teaser:

"This isn’t a debauched wonderland of men cheating on their wives. It isn’t even a sadscape of 31 million men competing to attract those 5.5 million women in the database. Instead, it’s like a science fictional future where every woman on Earth is dead, and some Dilbert-like engineer has replaced them with badly-designed robots."

"Those millions of Ashley Madison men were paying to hook up with women who appeared to have created profiles and then simply disappeared. Were they cobbled together by bots and bored admins, or just user debris? Whatever the answer, the more I examined those 5.5 million female profiles, the more obvious it became that none of them had ever talked to men on the site, or even used the site at all after creating a profile."

Wall Street Loves a Cheater 
by Lynnley Browning in Newsweek || Article Link 
(10 minute read)

Is the "bottom line" the only important measure of a business?  If it were, Ashley Madison would have been a great investment pre-hack. Just in April of this year, Bloomberg reported AMad was looking to IPO and raise $200 million. They had sales of $115 million in 2014 a "four-fold increase from 2009."

I went back to this Newsweek profile from 2013 to see how the business was viewed (and how its leaders viewed it) pre-hack. Turns out the deceitful character of the business extended to it's investors. Many were in it for the money but weren't willing to be public about it.

"'Ashley Madison is a remarkably good business,' says one money manager at a Canadian asset management firm with $1 billion in assets who declines to name himself or his firm, citing fears of a public backlash. He says his firm has made 25 percent a year on its stake since investing in 2008. 'It's recurring, has high margins, high free cash flow, requires little capital, has a rock-like balance sheet and is exceptionally well run by its passionate CEO.'" 

Never mind the impact on families, and children and the way the site facilitates a life of lies. It's giving me 25% returns annually! Maximize profit! Noel Biderman, AMad's (now former) CEO, is married with two kids. He claims neither he nor his wife are users of the site. But he at least was forthright about his own promotion of the site. At the time of the article he not only wanted money and growth: "What I want is acknowledgment and respect.'"

The Story of Danny and Annie
(5 minutes)

The stories of broken trust and broken relationships in this issue are hard to read. I find them endlessly discouraging. But I don't think they represent every marriage. True love that remains true still, thankfully, exists. I need to end this edition with a counter-note of hope. 

This video is one of my absolute favorite things in the world to listen to. It is the story of the love between an elderly Brooklyn couple  Danny, an OTB clerk, and Annie, a nurse. Through NPR's StoryCorps project they remember their life together—from their first date to Danny's final days with terminal cancer. When I think about what I want my own marriage to be like, I sometimes think of this couple. 

"The only gift I have to give you is a poor gift, and that's myself. But I've always given it." - Danny
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