Hacked online cheating service AshleyMadison.com is portraying itself as a victim of malicious cybercriminals, but leaked emails from the company’s CEO suggest that AshleyMadison’s top leadership hacked into a competing dating service in 2012.
Late last week, the Impact Team — the hacking group that has claimed responsibility for leaking personal data on more than 30 million AshleyMadison users — released a 30-gigabyte archive that it said were emails lifted from AshleyMadison CEO Noel Biderman.
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.”
Neither Bhatia nor Biderman could be immediately reached for comment. KrebsOnSecurity.com spoke with Bhatia last week after the Impact Team made good on its threat to release the Ashley Madison user database. At the time, Bhatia was downplaying the leak, saying that his team of investigators had found no signs that the dump of data was legitimate, and that it looked like a number of fake data dumps the company had seen in the weeks prior. Hours later, the leak had been roundly confirmed as legitimate by countless users on Twitter who were able to find their personal data in the cache of account information posted online.
The leaked Biderman emails show that a few months before Bhatia infiltrated Nerve.com, AshleyMadison’s parent firm — Avid Life Media — was approached with an offer to partner with and/or invest in the property. Email messages show that Bhatia initially was interested enough to offer at least $20 million for the company along with a second property called flirts.com, but that AshleyMadison ultimately declined to pursue a deal.
More than six months after Bhatia came to Biderman with revelations of the nerve.com security vulnerabilities, Biderman was set to meet with several representatives of the company. “Should I tell them of their security hole?” Biderman wrote to Bhatia, who doesn’t appear to have responded to that question via email. Continue reading →