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Who hacked Ashley Madison? The true story of the dating site’s 2015 hack

Who hacked Ashley Madison? The true story of the dating site's 2015 hack

Inside the scandal surrounding the infamous adultery site.

Who hacked Ashley Madison? In 2015, one of the biggest hacking scandals of the internet age exposed millions of extramarital affairs — but the people behind the hack were never found. Now, a new Netflix docuseries is trying to shed some light on exactly what happened.

Let's go back a little. Back in 2001, Canadian businessman Darren Morgenstern decided to found a dating website exclusively for married people looking to cheat on their partners. He had seen a statistic that indicated that 30% of people on dating websites were already married — sounds like a great guy!

Who hacked Ashley Madison? The true story of the dating site's 2015 hack

Courtesy of Netflix

His website, Ashley Madison, bore the tagline “Life is short. Have an affair.” It claimed to be 100% secure and discreet. By 2015, the website had amassed 36 million users. Then, Morgenstern's rather seedy empire came crumbling down.

That year, The Impact Team, a group of anonymous hackers, threatened to hack the website if it were not shut down. When the website remained online, they exposed the true identities of every single user on the website, publishing the information on the dark web in a series of data dumps.

So… what happened? Who was behind the scandal? Who hacked Ashley Madison?

Who hacked Ashley Madison?

One of the most fascinating things about the Ashley Madison scandal is that we still don't know who was behind it. All we know is that it was a group of hackers known as The Impact Team.

Of course, there are a few theories. Some believe that it was a team of tech-savvy “hacktivists” — hackers who attacked immoral websites as a method of activism.

Who hacked Ashley Madison? The true story of the dating site's 2015 hack

Courtesy of Netflix

This theory is supported by The Impact Team's public statement: “Full Delete netted ALM [Avid Life Media, the parent company] $1.7m in revenue in 2014. It's also a complete lie. Users almost always pay with credit card, their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real name and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed. Too bad for those men, they're cheating dirtbags and deserve no such discretion… Too bad for ALM, you promised secrecy but didn't deliver.”

Others think it's more likely that the hacker was simply an employee of the website. After all, the hackers seemed to know things about how the website's security worked. The CEO of the company even suggested it might have been ex-employee William Brewster Harrison who had been fired in 2011. However, Harrison was later revealed to have died by suicide in 2014.

What happened after the Ashley Madison hack?

After the hack, the team behind Ashley Madison began working with the FBI to try to discover the identities of the people behind The Impact Team.

“We know that there are people out there who know one or more of these individuals, and we invite them to come forward,” they said in a statement at the time. “While we are confident that the authorities will identify and prosecute each of them to the fullest extent of the law, we also know there are individuals out there who can help to make this happen faster.”

However, they were never found.

In the aftermath of the scandal, many of the people who had been registered on the website were impacted, including YouTuber Sam Rader and TLC's Josh Duggar.

Does Ashley Madison still exist?

Shockingly, yes it does. As of 2024, Ashley Madison has a staggering 75 million members. The website also still has its “full delete” option in which users can allegedly pay $19 to wipe their profiles, messages, identifiable information and photos.