We recently wrote an article about the controversy surrounding the Ashley Madison hack and why it points to a larger issue of privacy. Our stance on this situation is not whether adultery is right or wrong but that this exposure of private information threatens our assumption of privacy on the web. What we buy, where we bank, what we research, and even who we date can be exposed. So regardless of how you feel about adultery, we should all be terrified at the idea that a single group or person can decide to compromise that promise for their own personal agenda.
In this article, we’ll discuss what you can do if your Ashley Madison account information has been leaked and what can be done to minimize its damage to your reputation.
Step 1: Check that you’re actually on it.
We don’t condone searching the Ashley Madison data breach records for anyone other than yourself, but you’ll want to check if your information has actually been compromised. “Have i been pwned” allows you to check if your email has been compromised by a data breach and alerts you via email. This site requires you to verify the email address so only you will have access to the breached data associated with your information. You can also check if your email is on the list through internet investigation company Trustify.
Step 2: Prevent and bury negative search results around your name.
As more people access and digest the information from the leak, you might find the information start to find its way into the search results that show up when someone Googles your name. By building positive, relevant content about you, it’s possible to push the compromising information further down in search results and out of the public’s eye. This might not save your relationship, but it can minimize all the public embarrassment.
Burying any type of negative search result is a 3-step process:
Step 1: Create high-quality websites & profiles for your name:
- Secure your domain name: Go to a domain registrar like GoDaddy or Hover and purchase a personal domain name like “yourname.com”. If the “.com” is unavailable, try for “yourname.net” or “yourname.org”. You can also add a qualifier such as “yournameonline.com” or “yournamenyc.com”. The important thing is that “Your Name” is in the domain and remains together. Even if you don’t plan to use the domain right away, it prevents someone else from snagging it out from under you.
- Build a personal website: Your website should be a central hub of information about you: detailed bio, professional experience, interests, links to your social media profiles, contact info, your blog, etc. We recommend building your site with WordPress because it is relatively easy to use and the sites tend to rank well in search engines.
- Create high-ranking profiles: Social media is one of the best ways to get positive information about you on the web, so it’s important to create and manage several profiles. The profiles that tend to rank the highest are the Big Four: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook & Google+, but you should also look to be on other sites as well.
Step 2: Optimize your sites & profiles for search engines: Once you have your sites and profiles, you need to ensure that they have the best chance of ranking for your name in search results. Make sure to fill out your sites & profiles completely, include your name in as many key places as possible, and stay active on them. BrandYourself’s free tool guides you through the process of ensuring your sites are as search engine friendly as possible.
Step 3: Update, maintain and promote content over time: Combating a negative search result – like information from the Ashley Madison hack – will take time. It’s important to consistently create content for your name including social media activity, blogging, rich media creation (videos, images, SlideShares, etc.) and other types of content.
For more information, check out BrandYourself’s 4-part video series that guides you step-by-step through this process.
Step 3: Secure your privacy online
Unfortunately there is no guaranteed way to protect yourself from every type of hack. However, there are several best practices that will drastically increase the security of your own information.
Basic security tips:
- Use a secure password. Insecure passwords are the easiest way for an attacker to gain access to your information. If you’ve ever thought twice about whether your current password is secure, then it isn’t. Especially if it’s a real word like the name of your dog – that definitely isn’t secure. Make sure to mix up letters and numbers and strive for at least 8 characters.
- Use a password management tool tool like LastPass or 1Password. They create and store incredibly secure passwords for you, and have phone apps and browser plugins that actually make it even easier to sign into any account, like a very secure master key that unlocks the rest.
- Don’t provide your real email address and name if it’s not required. Using a disposable email generator like FakeInbox allows you to sign up for websites without giving out your actual email address.
- Use incognito mode or private browsing mode when you browse online.
- Always clear your browser history and cookies.
- Turn on Adblockers (like AdBlock for Google Chrome).
Advanced security tips:
- Set up a VPN or proxy like TunnelBear or HideMyAss. These make it much harder to track your IP address when browsing online.
- Use Duck Duck Go for web searches. It’s the only search engine that doesn’t collect any personal information.
- Use Tor as your browser. Tor allows internet browsers to improve their privacy and security on the Internet. Be sure to read the documentation when setting it up, because it can be complicated.
- Encrypt your email using something like Enigmail and PGP). Using PGP (“Pretty Good Privacy”) you can drastically reduce the chance that anyone can read your emails without the proper authentication – even if they fall into the wrong hands. Although setup can be complicated for novices, it is very secure. Here’s a guide to getting started.
- Use Dmail to send self-destructing emails. Though it’s less secure than PGP, it’s an option that will reduce the chances that your emails fall into the wrong hands.
- Use Cyber Dust as a replacement for text messages. Cyber Dust allows you to send self-destructing text messages à la snapchat. Your messages disappear after they are read, without a trace.
Was your info exposed by the Ashley Madison list? Schedule a call with one of our Reputation Advisors to see how we can help suppress the information in search results.