The Real Life Story of the Ashley Madison Hack

ABC and Hulu's The Ashely Madison Affair covers the fallout of the controversial site's hack. Here is the full story.

The Ashley Madison Affair
Photo: ABC

ABC and Hulu are teaming up this summer to provide true crime fans with some incredible docuseries, and the first to premiere is The Ashley Madison Affair, which does a deep dive into the controversial dating site Ashley Madison and its 2015 hack.

The Ashley Madison Affair is a three-part docuseries investigating how the dating website that allowed married people to have affairs experienced a scandalous hacking case that exposed its users’ private information. The docuseries interviews many of those at the heart of the scandal, and while it doesn’t add much to what those who have followed the scandal already know, it does make us wonder how this company managed to survive. 

Ashley Madison, which got its name by combining the most popular girls names of 2001, is not like your casual Tinder or Bumble because, unlike most people on those sites, the clients of Ashley Madison are already married. The premise of Ashley Madison is helping people,  including politicians and priests, cheat on their spouses and essentially have the “perfect” affair. 

The thrill of having an affair with a married person wasn’t the only thing that made the website popular as despite being denied adverts in the Superbowl program in 2009, it cashed in on scandals such as those of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer. After Spitzer’s affair was revealed Ashely Madison’s C.E.O. Noel Biderman took out a full page ad in the New York Post criticising the governor for paying for sex instead of using a service like Ashley Madison. 

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At its peak and the time of the hack, Ashley Madison claimed to have 32 million users around the world. But that’s not to say the site didn’t have its issues before the 2015 hack, as the new docuseries looks into how many of the female profiles on the site were fake. The series reveals how the site employed people whose specific job it was to set up fake profiles and interact with paying members to keep them on the site for a little bit longer. 

What Is the Ashley Madison Hack 2015?

In July 2015 a hacker group called the Impact Team told journalist Brian Krebs they had hacked Ashley Madison. They stated that they had obtained sensitive user information from Avid Life Media (ALM), the firm that owned Ashley Madison, as well as related sites such as Cougar Life and Established Men.

Why did they do this? According to the statement that was released at the time, they wanted Ashley Madison and its associated sites shut down permanently. If they refused to do this their statement said “we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers’ secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails.”

The site and ALM refused to shut down and as a result the hackers leaked all the stolen data. The hack also revealed that although Ashley Madison charged its users $20 to fully delete their information from the site, their private information including email and banking information was never actually deleted, meaning previous users also had their information leaked. As the docuseries explores, the hack damaged the lives of celebrities as well as everyday people simply wanting to indulge in an affair. 

What Celebrities Were Affected by the Ashley Madison Hack?

The most notable was arguably the already disgraced reality star Josh Duggar from 19 Kids and Counting. By the time of the hack Duggar was already facing molestation accusations. However, the hack revealed that Duggar was paying for two Ashley Madison accounts and even paying a monthly fee to ensure he met other women. 

Christian YouTuber Sam Rader also made a YouTube video confessing to having an Ashley Madison account prior to beginning his YouTube channel and that his wife had forgiven him. Florida State Attorney Jeff Ashton who was the prosecutor on the Casey Anthony murder trial admitted to using the website out of curiosity but never cheated. Another member of the site was Louisiana GOP official and Donald Trump admin hire Jason Doré who claimed to use the site for opposition research

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Josh Taekman best known as the husband of Real Housewives of New York star Kristen Taekman was also on the list and later stated to Us Weekly he “signed up for the site foolishly and ignorantly with a group of friends.” Despite still being married to this day, Kristen quit Real Housewives of New York two months after the scandal. 

Why Was the Hack So Impactful?

Beyond creating chaos for famous people, the hack revealed the sensitive information of everyday people. For many that were on the site, the hack gave scammers and blackmailers free access to all their information to use against them.

The docuseries explores how people would call up radio stations and ask whether or not their partner was on the list. Radio stations would then get live reactions If their partners were on the list. It’s safe to say the hack did lead to some divorces but it did more than just damage families through divorce, as some people even committed suicide in the immediate aftermath. 

It also led to some lawsuits, but as the docuseries reveals a lot of people didn’t feel comfortable bringing a lawsuit to Ashley Madison for not properly storing their sensitive information because if they did, they would essentially be confirming that they were on the site. Their information would also once again be in the public domain. 

What Happened to Ashley Madison CEO Noel Biderman?

At the time of the hack, Biderman was accused of not deleting the accounts of customers who had paid to have them removed. But like many Ashley Madison users, sensitive information about him was also leaked, including his personal emails detailing numerous affairs he had had throughout his marriage to his wife, Amanda.

On 28 August 2015, he resigned from Ashley Madison and as CEO of Avid Life Media.

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As for where he is now, you won’t see him appear in The Ashley Madison Affair as he said he’s moved on from the site but he is still happily married to his wife with whom he shares two children. In terms of work, his LinkedIn page reveals he’s the CEO of Toronto-based software company Avenue Insights, and Strategic Advisor at WonderFi. He and his wife are still together and have two children.

Who Led the Ashley Madison Hack?

One of the final things the series leaves us with is that they still don’t know who did the hack.

The docuseries confirms what Biderman said in 2015 that they believe the hacker was an insider who still had access to their technology. Biderman told KrebsOnSecurity “I’ve got their profile right in front of me, all their work credentials. It was definitely a person here that was not an employee but certainly had touched our technical services.”

Another thing the series clarifies is that the reasoning behind the hackers leaking the information is still unknown but suggests that it could have been a person who was unhappy with the Ashley Madison site or their partner had been using the site and so they wanted to get revenge on those at the helm. 

But after watching the docuseries it doesn’t seem that the hack really did too much to the company itself, as after the hack it signed 30 million new users and is still running today.

What Can I Watch Next?

If The Ashley Madison Affair has got you craving even more true crime documentaries, fear not because ABC and Hulu have three more series out this summer. They have an adaption of the podcast Betrayal called Betrayal: The Perfect Husband that sees a wife discover things about her husband she never expected. Mother Undercover explores the extent to which four mothers go to protect their children. Their final docuseries is Demons and Saviors which tells the story of a woman, who despite claiming she’s innocent, was convicted of murdering her 3-year-old daughter after the public speculated she had telekinetic abilities. 

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If you want something still true crime but more similar to The Ashley Madison Affair then check out The Age of Influence, The Randall Scandal, or Inventing Anna

The Ashley Madison Affair is available to stream on Hulu now.