LONDON » Husbands and wives across the world are being confronted with their partners’ extramarital affairs after a catastrophic leak at adultery website Ashley Madison spewed electronic evidence of infidelity across the Internet.
Online forums were buzzing Thursday with users claiming to have found evidence that their significant others were on the dating site. In Britain and Israel, parliamentarians have been put on the defensive after their email addresses were identified in the trove. And in Australia, one woman appeared to learn — live on air — that her husband’s details were registered with the site.
Family law experts are divided on the likely offline impact of the leak, but Los Angeles-based divorce lawyer Steve Mindel predicted an uptick in business for him and his colleagues.
"We’re all saying: ‘It’s going to be Christmas in September,’" Mindel said. "Pretty soon all of this stuff is going to surface and there’s going to be a lot of filings for divorce directly as a result of this."
Ashley Madison marketed itself as the premier venue for cheating spouses before data stolen by hackers started spreading across the Internet earlier this week. The prospect of finding the name of a loved one or an acquaintance amid the site’s more than 35 million registered members has drawn strong interest worldwide.
Websites devoted to checking emails against the leaked data appeared to be experiencing heavy traffic. Forums such as Reddit — the user-powered news and discussion site — carried stories of anguished husbands and wives confronting their partners after finding their data among the massive dump of information.
When the hosts of a morning show in Sydney, Australia, asked listeners to phone in if they wanted their spouse’s details run through the database, a woman called saying she was suspicious because her husband had been acting strangely since the news of the leak broke. The hosts plugged his details into a website and said they found a match.
"Are you serious? Are you freaking kidding me?" the woman asked, her voice shaking. "These websites are disgusting." She then hung up.
The emotional punch of the Ashley Madison leak puts it in a separate category than the parade of recent data breaches, said Eduardo Ustaran, a data protection and privacy lawyer with Hogan Lovells in London.
"Passwords can be changed and credit cards replaced," he said in an email. "But the Ashley Madison breach is different because it threatens to destroy lives and families."
It could also threaten political careers.
Journalists are combing through the data, looking for the names of celebrities, top officials or religious leaders. Their task has been complicated by the fact that many of the profiles were tied to fake or borrowed email addresses, which users did not necessarily have to validate.
In Britain, Scottish lawmaker Michelle Thomson said an obsolete email address had been "harvested by hackers" and used to register an account with the site. A similar explanation was offered by Talab Abu Arar, a Bedouin Arab lawmaker in Israel whose parliamentary email address was found amid the dump.
"Someone wanted simply to hurt my good name … it is very annoying," he told Israel’s Army Radio.
Like many Bedouin Arabs, Abu Arar practices polygamy and has a wife and a common-law partner. With two partners, he said, why would he need a website?
"I’m not lacking in women," he said with a chuckle.
Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem contributed to this report.