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Why the Ashley Madison hack and other e-scandals are your wakeup call

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If you have yet to figure out that your Internet activity and emails are fair game, you had better learn quickly.

Another week, another trove of secret data released to the masses.

Less than a year ago, we watched as Sony Pictures fell victim to a bizarre retaliatory hack that unleashed the secret rants of studio executives. Most of us enjoyed the commotion with a bucket of popcorn in our laps because didn’t we already want to believe that A-listers behaved like petulant children? The email excerpts about so-and-so’s demands just confirmed these notions.

A high-profile political candidate has been under scrutiny for using a private email server to send potentially sensitive work emails. It has become such a big issue that the scandal even has its own, standalone Wikipedia entry.[1]

Now, everyone’s watching the mother lode dump from the adult infidelity website Ashley Madison. The related ramifications of this hack will affect public and private sectors and of course, personal lives.

The public consensus may be that if you sign up for such a website, then welcome to the land of consequences. There’s a bigger picture problem that all of us should be considering, especially as advisors whose businesses are built on trust.

Nothing is safe.

Specifically, nothing that we access electronically is safe. Many people are rightly concerned about identity theft but the real threat is the information that people disclose almost willingly.  

You should consider that every site you visit, every place you post a comment, every email you send complaining about a coworker could become open season. Clients can search the Internet using your name, social media handles and your actual email address. Are they going to find anything that may be inappropriate? Can you undo that information at any time? Probably not.

The risk to reputation is real. These very public breaches of security have brought “behind closed doors” issues into the light. For every disgraced public figure, there are hundreds, if not thousands, who are dealing with their own small-time shame when an Ashley Madison situation goes viral.

If multimillion corporations can have electronic databases exposed by anonymous groups in almost elementary fashion, a small firm doesn’t stand a chance. 

While these incidents seem to affect “everyone but me”, studies show that workplaces are a popular problem area for computer/Internet misuse. So while it may not be you, it’s seems like it’s practically everyone else around you.

The electronic world we live in is can be one very scary place and you no longer have absolute control about who knows what in your life. However, you can take common sense steps including: think before you post on a public site, hit send on an email or sign up for that intriguing site out of curiosity. 

Or better explained by celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz: “When I was growing up, my mother would always say, ‘It will go on your permanent record.’ There was no ‘permanent record’…There is a permanent record today, and it’s called the Internet.”[2]




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