In summer 2015 a hacking team released the details of the 35 million members of adulterous dating site Ashley Madison in one of the biggest data breaches ever seen.
The result was, what divorce lawyers were calling ‘Christmas in September’, after the leak saw hundreds of relationships torn apart.
The hack even lead to several reports of suicides of members of the site who struggled to face life after their exposure.
But now a year after the controversial site was infiltrated by Impact hackers a Channel 4 documentary has met the victims of the exposure – both customers of the site and their cheated partners.
Tamsin Smythe, an unmarried marketing consultant from Virginia, was one of the 35 million members seeking to have an affair using the ‘dating site’.
The site, which promises ‘discreet’ relationships is dedicated to people already in committed relationships or marriages, attracted Tamsin after she had spent her whole life shunning traditional relationships in favour of affairs.
She says: ‘It was definitely geared more towards the afternoon delight kind of a quick hook-up’.
Christopher Russell, who used the site to find ‘like minded women’ agreed that the site had a casual appeal.
He added: ‘The big attraction to it was it’s a hook-up, it’s not a date. Everyone knows where they stand.’
Tamsin used the site in order to meet a variety of men claiming she came across politicians, CEOs and management, but reveals that though they may be brazen in their relationships they could be shy online.
She said: ‘Initially men are very hesitant to make the first move. When we start talking they want to find out “are you real? Do you really live in the United States?”
‘Then once you start talking inevitably men have this sensational desire to send you d*** pictures. Sometimes it’s even the first picture – you don’t even know what their face looks like.’
In July last year all the details of the men and women using the controversial site were threatened to be released by Impact.
The hackers gave Avid Media 30 days to close down their sites Ashley Madison and Established Men (a site for successful men looking for beautiful women) or they would release the information.
When the CEO Noel Biderman refused to close the site after the 30 day period 30 million user details were released.
Tamsin recalls the day she found out: ‘I was in a meeting and all of a sudden my phone is dancing across the table.
‘I’m trying to concentrate and I’m looking over and I’m seeing the names of business associates, business clients, friends of mine, people I had met on Ashley Madison contacting me and my heart sank.’
After the names of the committed men she had been courting were released Tamsin says she was even contacted by their partners.
She added: ‘I had met and talked to quite a few of the gentleman – their wives were decimated and hurt and they wanted to talk.’
After the release of the user details it came to light that ‘White Hat’ hackers – those who infiltrate large sites in order to warn them of their security weaknesses had tried to encourage Avid Media to increase their security.
Jeremy Bullock, chief data scientist at a UK-based technology firm said: ‘They talked a good game about their security but what we saw is that security wasn’t really the top of their agenda. The top of their agenda was making money.’
The programme reveals the lengths at which the company went to in order to generate more cash.
In order to make money male users were required to buy ‘credits’ if they wished to talk and reply to female members.
However, shortly after the hacking case it transpired that many men were paying money to talk to one of 837 ‘fembots’, robots programmed to send messages to gullible men.
User Christopher commented: ‘They made it sound like this playland of people hooking up and there’s millions of women here and they’re all interested in you.
‘I had contact with probably around 200 profiles and out of those I believe I spoke to one actual person.’
Although many users ended up having relationships with nothing more than spambots for others they faced a far harsher reality.
In 2012 several years before the hack Jim*, from Idaho received some messages on his phone after one of his wife’s accounts accidentally networked to his cell.
He explains: ‘I started getting emails and text messages between my wife and another guy telling him “I’m gonna start a fight with my husband”, find some way to meet up with him. And I threw up.
‘(It’s) Stuff you can never un-know, never un-see. There was a video someone sent me and it was her having sex.’
After accessing further messages Jim discovered that his wife had affairs with no less than six different men through Ashley Madison.
He continued: ‘Its like a drug and you’re addicted and you just want more you want that adrenaline. You want that feeling. That’s the only way I can think of it.’
Jim and his then wife have five children and he desperately tried to keep the family together.
He said: ‘I have kids. I did not want to raise them up with a broken home. I felt like it was my fault. I felt responsible.
‘I just tried talking to her and explaining, “you know I love you. We have five kids, let’s not destroy this family”‘.
However, eventually the cracks in their relationship lead to the couple divorcing shortly after.
‘It took a long time before I stopped getting nauseous,’ said Jim. ‘I had to physically withdraw from Ashley Madison until the hack. That was a good day’.
CEO Noel Biderman eventually stepped down from his post at Avid Media but to this day police investigating the case still don’t know who was behind the Impact hack.
Sex, Lies and Cyber Attacks is on tonight at 10pm on Channel 4