When a breach occurs that shares our personal information we immediately think about identity theft and credit card fraud. More recently we are seeing more health information compromised as well, but the Adult FriendFinder breach changes that focus. The hack still revolves around personal information, but with the exception of the username/password, it does not include social security numbers or credit card numbers. Rather, this breach is focused on a persons sexual preferences or desires.
According to the story at CNN and other news sources, username and passwords were retrieved. As with any breach like this, it is recommended to change your passwords on other sites if you are reusing them, and definitely change the password for this site. While that can be devastating if your username/password combo work on other sites, especially financial sites, we are seeing a different concern arise here.
There are a lot of different data privacy or data breach notification laws that have been passed throughout the country. Originally the focus was on identity data, then moved to health data. Even more recently, Illinois is trying to include marketing data as well. In this situation, we have sexual preference data. This isn’t used to steal a persons identity or charge up their credit card accounts. This type of data is used for extortion or reputational harm. In our overly judgmental society, this type of data can destroy your livelihood.
It has already been shown that victims of the breach can be identified and that there are bad guys that are already using this data to start attacking them. How could they attack? The easiest way is by using identified social media accounts to send spear phishing attacks about the situation to them. A user clicks on the link in the email attack and is presented with a malicious file that gives the attacker control over their machine. This is probably the most likely attack because it is easy and efficient.
The second option is to extort those victims. Tell them that you have this information and if you don’t pay a large sum of money, that information will go public. Of course that information pretty much is public, and the organization of that may be more costly to the bad guys making this less attractive.
In either case, they are playing off of the victim’s fears of this information being leaked. Unlike a credit card number or a password, you can’t just change this information once it is made public. You can attempt a cover story of “that isn’t me” or “I just made that up” but recovering becomes a nightmare.
Even worse, besides not using the site, there is nothing you could do to prevent this hack. While they haven’t given details of how the site was hacked, it appears as though it was from the server, and not a user’s computer. Of course, there is a chance that this could be wrong, but if not, a user of the site has very little control over this happening. We rely on a site to protect this type of data because when they don’t, it can create a nightmare for the users of the site.
If you think you were a victim of this breach, be on the look out for phishing emails. Emails that claim to be about this breach asking you to go to a site to change your credentials, or input other information. Go to the site directly and change your password. If extortion occurs I would recommend reaching out to the local authorities for assistance on what to do.