Last month, KrebsOnSecurity posted an exclusive story about emails leaked from AshleyMadison that suggested the company’s former chief technology officer Raja Bhatia hacked into a rival firm in 2012. Now, an attorney for the former executive is threatening a libel lawsuit against this author unless the story is retracted.
According to Bhatia’s attorney, the part of the story they consider defamatory has to do with the headline of the piece, and this bit:
“A review of those missives shows that on at least one occasion, a former company executive hacked another dating website, exfiltrating their entire user database. On Nov. 30, 2012, Raja Bhatia, the founding chief technology officer of AshleyMadison.com, sent a message to Biderman notifying his boss of a security hole discovered in nerve.com, an American online magazine dedicated to sexual topics, relationships and culture.
At the time, nerve.com was experimenting with its own adult dating section, and Bhatia said he’d uncovered a way to download and manipulate the nerve.com user database.
“They did a very lousy job building their platform. I got their entire user base,” Bhatia told Biderman via email, including in the message a link to a Github archive with a sample of the database. “Also, I can turn any non paying user into a paying user, vice versa, compose messages between users, check unread stats, etc.”
Libel lawsuits in the United States are usually quite difficult and expensive for the plaintiff to win. But in Canada — where Bhatia’s attorney and AshleyMadison’s parent company Avid Life Media are headquartered — the libel laws are more complex for defendants. For example, according my consultation with a prominent Canadian digital media attorney, the onus there is on the accused to prove the disputed libelous claims are in fact true.
Nevertheless, I have no intention of posting a retraction or correcting any elements of this story. But I’m publishing a copy of the letter (PDF) from Bhatia’s lawyer in the likely event that other publications have also received libel and defamation threats from AshleyMadison and/or its current and former employees.
A story at Wired.com from Kim Zetter that ran shortly after my piece aired includes quite a few more colorful quotes from leaked emails Bhatia allegedly sent to AshMad CEO Noel Biderman.
Update, 11:49 a.m. ET: Added reference to Wired piece as the last sentence of this story.