IT Pro is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more
Analysis

John McAfee: Ashley Madison hack was 'lone female employee'

Antivirus tycoon points to evocative language and "sources within the Dark Web"

A woman working for the parent company of Ashley Madison was responsible for last month's hackthat resulted in the leak of 33 million customer details online, according to veteran cybersecurity figure John McAfee.

Writing for International Business Times, McAfee yesterday claimed that the leak was engineered by "a woman operating on her own who worked for Avid Life Media", which owns the infidelity dating site, rather thanbeing the work of external actors,.

He claimed the Impact Team hacking group that has claimed responsibility for the attack is a fabrication, citing "reliable sources within the Dark Web". His primary reasoning is that, unlike hacker collectives Lizard Squad and Lulzsec, Impact Team has not been linked to any prior breaches.

Instead, he alleged that a single insider was responsible, writing: "From the data that was released, it was clear that the perpetrator had intimate knowledge of the technology stack of the company (all the programs being used).

"For example, the data contains actual MySQL database dumps. This is not just someone copying a table and making into a .csv file. Hackers rarely have full knowledge of the technology stack of a target."

He added that information he provided to IBTimes which is to be "referenced and then destroyed" proves this.

McAfee supposedly deduced the gender of the mole through evocative statements attached to the initial breach.

"The most telling was a statement calling men 'scumbags'," he said. "In a separate section, the perpetrator describes men as cheating dirtbags. I think in any language this would suggest that a woman is speaking."

The controversial cybersecurity expert pointed to sensitive details exposed in the leak to claim it was an inside job.

"The personnel work scheduling for equipment maintenance will normally exist only on the workstation of the maintenance manager", McAfee wrote.

"Likewise, the data for options for stock shares in a company, an extremely private set of data, will exist only in a private file on the workstation of the VP of Finance, or the CEO."

McAfee believes that the sheer amount of information, most of it kept in separate directories, is evidence of an internal actor, and states that "only someone on the inside, who could easily gain all of the files through deception and guile, could have done the job."

However, independent computer analystGraham Cluley, was less than convinced about McAfee's conclusions.

He told IT Pro:"Once again, John McAfee is doing a great job of drawing attention to himself. If he has any genuine evidence then he should pass it over to the police."

"I suspect they have enough serious leads to explore already without every amateur Miss Marple spouting off with their own theories," he added.

Mark James, IT security specialist at ESET, was more charitably disposed towards the idea, saying: "The claims are quite feasible because often in the case of large data breaches there is indeed help from the inside.It's the easiest way to get malware onto the internal systems or data extracted from the servers."

But malware intelligence analyst at MalwareBytes, Chris Boyd, suggested that hackers may have purposefully misled experts to disguise their identities.

"While McAfee's claims of insider activity are interesting, it's not a huge leap to think that anybody wanting to false flag themselves out of the equation would simply attempt to come off sounding like something they're not," he said.

"It might be a woman - or it might be a man going out of their way to throw people off the scent. I don't think it really matters either way - man or woman, the data is out there, and the damage is done."

The 10GB data dump released on the dark web last week has already caused casualties, with Toronto police claiming two people have committed suicide as a result, while others have been blackmailed by cybercriminals.

Lawsuits have also emerged, with a Californian man suing Avid Life Media for negligence.

Featured Resources

Four strategies for building a hybrid workplace that works

All indications are that the future of work is hybrid, if it's not here already

Free webinar

The digital marketer’s guide to contextual insights and trends

How to use contextual intelligence to uncover new insights and inform strategies

Free Download

Ransomware and Microsoft 365 for business

What you need to know about reducing ransomware risk

Free Download

Building a modern strategy for analytics and machine learning success

Turning into business value

Free Download

Recommended

Ten ways to protect your company from the next big data breach
data breaches

Ten ways to protect your company from the next big data breach

18 Feb 2022
Gumtree site code made personal data of users and sellers publicly accessible
data protection

Gumtree site code made personal data of users and sellers publicly accessible

16 Dec 2021
Pizza chain exposed 100,000 employees' Social Security numbers
data breaches

Pizza chain exposed 100,000 employees' Social Security numbers

19 Nov 2021
83% of critical infrastructure companies have experienced breaches in the last three years
cyber security

83% of critical infrastructure companies have experienced breaches in the last three years

11 Nov 2021

Most Popular

Russian hackers declare war on 10 countries after failed Eurovision DDoS attack
hacking

Russian hackers declare war on 10 countries after failed Eurovision DDoS attack

16 May 2022
Windows Server admins say latest Patch Tuesday broke authentication policies
Server & storage

Windows Server admins say latest Patch Tuesday broke authentication policies

12 May 2022
IT admin deletes company’s databases and is jailed for seven years
Policy & legislation

IT admin deletes company’s databases and is jailed for seven years

16 May 2022