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Ashley Madison hack strips privacy veil

Posted On: Sep. 13, 2015 12:00 AM CST

It's really hard to muster much sympathy for most of the alleged victims of the Ashley Madison website hack.

After all, this is a site that describes itself as “the most famous name in infidelity and married dating” and the “most successful website for finding an affair and cheating partners.”

That sounds like a longer-winded way to say “Adulterers R Us.” Call it all-too-social social media.

Of course, we're hearing tearful confessions and angry denials among those whose names were leaked. That's to be expected, although those doing the confessions and complaining should have expected that they'd ultimately be found out.

But we're seeing something else as well: anguish among some people named as patrons of the site whose names got there for either legitimate reasons such as journalists researching stories or because someone maliciously signed them up.

What's happening with Ashley Madison underscores what we all should have realized a long time ago — put something online, and it will eventually be found out by anyone who wants to find it out. It's a trade-off for access to virtually unlimited information, an awful lot of it worthless or at least never sufficiently vetted.

If anything, the Ashley Madison hack, like every other hack before it, underscores the need for enhanced cyber security, and laws and regulations that promote security.

Lawmakers have been unable to agree on what the best approach to sharing information about cyber attacks should be. Much of the disagreement has been over the effectiveness of privacy guarantees in any legislation. Privacy concerns shouldn't be dismissed in the name of security, and finding a balance between two equally valid concerns is both difficult and critical.

In the cyber world, the bad guys are always one step ahead. It's a constant game of defense, and the good guys need an ever-more-effective arsenal to maintain security. They must be able to share information about what works and what doesn't in fending off cyber attacks without fearing they're going to face frivolous lawsuits despite the best-of-faith efforts.

Don't be surprised if in the next few weeks the names of a lawmaker or two end up being leaked as Ashley Madison patrons. That alone could force congressional action on cyber security.

Posting personal information on the Internet is risky, and posting it on Ashley Madison is stupid as well.

Fortunately, such stupidity could help bring about a smart outcome — a step toward an effective national cyber security strategy.