This is one breach that – aside from the corporate owner of the Ashley Madison site – doesn’t really impact companies, right?  Not so.  As the social and ethical ripples of the Ashley Madison hack race back and forth across the country and the world – and 37 million users and their significant others agonize over the disclosure of intimate details and information – companies and their leaders should take heed.

One of the greatest cyber threats to corporate reputations, brand power and shareholder value is a leak of documents or information that reveal outright lapses in integrity among employees or support perceptions – whether true or not – of their inappropriate actions, policies or behaviors.

Extortionists are Preying on Both the Victims – and the Curious

Reporters and watchdog groups are now sifting through the information disclosed looking to catch high-profile individuals in a compromising position.  Yes, pun intended.

  • Unfortunately for those affected by the breach, they don’t just have to answer questions from spouses and family members, they now also run the risk of being extorted by opportunistic criminals seeking financial gain from the breach.
  • These criminals are also taking advantage of curious individuals using tools that claim to search the “dark web” to identify individuals or email address on the list.  (If you are one of them, don’t use the Trustify site.)
  • Once that email address is entered into the search tool, the cyber pirates can target that email address to attempt extortion, whether or not the email was even on the list.


Your Employees’ Integrity – or Lack of It – Can Impact Your Brand

This Ashley Madison hack should be a big eye-opener for corporations everywhere.   Take ESPN Sports, for example.   A third party has determined – either by registered email or defined IP address associated with the organization – that 101 of ESPN Sports’ 4,000 employees have a relationship to the site at some level.

Does this information adversely affect your perception or trust in the ability of ESPN to provide you with the 24-hour sports you crave?  Maybe or maybe not.  The pitfall for organizations will be the financial impact that may be felt by sponsors or advertisement revenue as their ethical or morality markers may drive spending decisions.

Three Steps Your Company Can Take to Address These Risks

  1. Educate employees on their personal responsibility to the organization and ensure your policies and procedures map to your organization’s mission, vision, purpose and core values.
  2. If you choose to monitor employee Internet use, ensure that they understand that you are doing so.  Define clear standards you expect them to follow while on the job or using corporate assets such as computers.
  3. Don’t react in a knee-jerk manner.  Instead, validate the source and contents of the alleged violation – and double-check that your policies and prohibitions on such behavior are clear and well-documented – before engaging in discipline or discharge.

Don’t Become the Next Ashley Madison

How your employees behave can help or hurt your brand – and determine business success and failure.  We hope the Ashley Madison breach serves as a wake-up call to companies and organizations to strengthen the policies and practices that protect their brand integrity and avoid the negative impacts that public perception can have on their bottom line.