The earlier you got a Gmail account, the more likely it is to appear on the Ashley Madison hacked user list. This assumes you picked a short, easy to remember username on Gmail. You are also likely to:
- Send money in India via mobile payments on a daily basis
- Submit applications to start home mortgages in multiple states under multiple names each year
- Get added to a dozen political campaign lists every season
- Not be able to use your email address on sites as popular as Sony.com because someone, years ago, already used your email address when they signed up for an account
Pretty much anything popular that doesn’t require a verification of email, you’ll eventually get signed up for.
And by “you” I may mean you, but I certainly mean me.
My Gmail account is a decade old and has a short username that is super easy to remember. I get compliments on it when I give it at the dentist and doctor’s office (hey, I will take all the compliments I can get), but it can come with annoyances.
I remember seeing an Ashley Madison email appear in my inbox sometime in the last year. I figured it was likely a phishing attempt and marked it as spam.
Yesterday I ran my email address through a couple sites that are hosting the Ashley Madison hacked email list, and there was my email. Still surprising, but somewhat expected, given what I indicated above. One lookup site was nice enough to put this in the results:
xxxxxxxx@gmail was found. However, someone else could have signed up using their email addresss
Are the email addresses verified by the account owners?
No. It is possible someone accidentally or deliberately registered with the wrong email address. Determining the likelihood of this is left to you.
You’d be amazed how many people apparently don’t know their own email addresses, so be skeptical about the results, especially if the person’s name is common.
And that’s the thing with Ashley Madison. They sign up users without verifying email accounts and then proceed to email, almost daily, if my spam and Social Promotions Gmail tab is any indication. My email account is composed of roughly 30% relevant personal emails, 60% lists I signed up for, and 10% emails where someone else signed up for something, using my common email.
To be clear, I didn’t sign up for Ashley Madison.
I would like to look up the Ashley Madision account details, associated with my email address. I am in the small percentage affected by hack, where having access to the actual information associated with the email address would be a benefit. But that is fairly difficult to do.
To quote Gawker:
The hacked data is also (until someone inevitably makes it easily searchable), a huge pain in the ass to sift through. The leak is basically an enormous, unwieldy text dump chopped up into a handful of folders.
When the database gets release in an easy to read format, I will have a look, if there aren’t any legal risks, and update this post, . Having a popular email address is causing enough annoyances, as it is, without risking some malware install from a Dark Net zip file or a Pirates Bay file. All I know about the account is what I found when I clicked on one of the links that was in my Google Social Tabs folder.
I am fortunate that my wife knows me well enough and our relationship is solid enough that isn’t necessary for me to go searching Tor or Pirates Bay for the database and learn how to navigate Open SQL (right, honey? right? – she is my editor). Editors Note — I believe him. We researched this piece together. I also looked at the account in question.
She also knows about getting signed up for things based on a common email address. She got her Gmail account a decade ago. Her two-name email is signed up for random lists almost weekly by other people. She even she gets important documents intended for other people of same name, and she tries to educate the sender. I just hit the spam button.
Someone who chooses an obscure email address is less likely to have it entered by someone randomly, but it does happen. Does this provide plausible deniability to the 30+ million people who were in the Ashley Madison database? Likely not, but I have to imagine tens of thousands of people fall into a similar situation.
On Twitter, I experience something similar. I have used @JoshD on Twitter for close to three years and routinely get @messages intended for other people whose users names begin with “@JoshD”. They are either incorrectly entered or simply get cutoff when some app does a manual retweet.
If you have a short username on any popular network or services, you may have experienced the same thing.
The Ashley Madison hack is a potentially destructive to some people and a diversion for others. I felt like writing about my experience with this cultural phenomenon as it may be relatable to some of my digitally-active audience. I am not vain enough to think everyone (or even anyone) I know is entering my email address in these lookups, but this database is going to live on the Internet forever, so I also don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea.
This hack has more importance to the personal lives of more people than any hack before. Most of us have had some of our personal information hacked before. The fact that I have an Adobe software subscription isn’t judgement-worthy. That fact that my email is associated with an Ashley Madison account likely is.
Digg has put together a good list of information on this hack if you are wanting to get caught-up or explore this issue further.
I chose to not list my email address on this post. If you know me personally, it is the primary one I use for the last five years, but given all the security issues around it, I have left it off. If you are a journalist who has access to the full data base, I am happy to provide my email address (and authenticate it) in order to get the details associated with the account and answer any questions.
Have constructive comments? You can leave them below or you can message me @JoshD. If you get the username wrong, I am sure someone like @Josh will completely understand. He likely gets even more random tweets than I do.