On August 18 hackers made good on a July threat to publish the personal information of over 37 million users of an adultery hook-up website. Among those 37 million email addresses used to register accounts were 15,000 using .mil and .gov domains.
The data was dumped on the dark web, according to Wired. But pretty soon mainstream sites will be publishing the names (whether real or aliases) and data of those people in a place that you and I can easily scroll through then. And we might find information we'd rather not know. We might even find the name of someone we know or, God forbid, of our own spouse.
I wrote this news story about the .mil and .gov email addresses. I did not review and did not search for a list of actual users, names, addresses, phone numbers or any other information.
While we all take time to absorb the ramifications (to us personally or our friends) of this kind of potentially incredibly embarrassing hack, I think it's worth pointing out a few things.
1. Fifteen thousand government or military email accounts is nothing. That cheating is common in the military is a fairly common misconception in some circles. But let's make this clear: 15,000 Ashley Madison .mil and .gov accounts does not make all military members cheaters. A good chunk of these were .gov, not .mil. And even if they were all .mil and only active duty, 15,000 represents less than 1 percent of the current fighting force. The military divorce rate is also higher than that, at about 3.1 percent for 2014.
It's also worth noting that not all email addresses listed are legitimate (example: yahoo.mil) -- and some are super old. About 130 addresses are registered to "gimail.af.mil" -- a service phased out by the Air Force in 2010.
2. If your spouse is busted as part of this hack, here are some resources. Hopefully not a single person reading this post needs what I am about to say. But if you do, I want you to know: you may feel embarrassed, ostracized and hopeless. Before anything else get yourself into some therapy where you can talk to someone confidentially while you figure out what to do. Here are some free counseling resources. After you've had some time to process it, move on to the next step. Try to save your relationship -- or decide to move on (and refer to this article). This may sound cheesy but I'm going to say it anyway: no matter what you choose to do, we'll still be here for you.
3. These folks are probably in big trouble. Like Military.com columnist and SpouseBuzz writer Rebekah Sanderlin pointed out in a Facebook discussion on the subject, using the site at all makes you a great blackmail candidate. If the user has a security clearance, opening himself up to blackmail puts the whole country at risk. The Defense Department is silent so far on what might come next for these folks, but I suspect currently serving service members who used their government accounts for this site will face repercussions that go beyond embarrassment. If they were to be prosecuted for breaking military law (the Uniform Code of Military Justice or UCMJ) it would most likely not be for adultery, since it is difficult to prove. They can, however, be prosecuted for misconduct.
4. If your spouse isn't on the list, this is none of your business. If someone's husband (or wife) has an account that was revealed as part of this hacking, they are going to find out. They don't need me or you to see it. That's why I won't be combing this list -- and I hope you don't either.
Sometimes terrible things happen in marriage. If this is your terrible thing, we're here for you. Marriage is hard -- and all of us are constantly working on it. The very least we can do is support each other as we move forward.