It seems that when the recent, massive hack of Ashley Madison exposed how weak security was on that site, hackers were motivated to take a closer look at online dating sites in general. What they and online security experts are finding is that most online dating sites are highly vulnerable to attack.
PlentyOfFish Hacked – AGAIN
TechCrunch reported a Plenty Of Fish hack in January of 2011, and three days ago news came of a new attack.
This latest hack isn’t an attempt to steal user information, but to install malware on their computers. News.com.au reports:
An ad run on the website last week may have muddied the waters of the dating pool by dropping malware on users’ computers.
Plenty of Fish claims to be the largest online dating site with more than 3 million daily active users and if any of those users did not have antivirus software installed, they are at risk of malware infection.
The malicious advertisement was distributed by an ad network placing ads on PoF.com, and used Google’s URL shortener to redirect visitors to a series of websites that ended with the Nuclear browser exploit kit, which infects systems (mostly Windows PCs) through vulnerabilities in widely used browser plug-ins such as Adobe Flash Player, Silverlight, Adobe Reader and Java.
Notice the reference to Adobe Flash, which I’ve been warning users away from for years.
Adult FriendFinder Network of Sites Hacked
In May of this year, Adult FriendFinder was hacked in an attack that did target users’ private and financial data. MakeUseOf reports:
Users of online dating site Adult FriendFinder – and the various alternative sites in its network – have been left with concerns after it emerged that the database of almost 4 million records has been hacked and leaked.
Adult FriendFinder…it’s essentially a dating website…with a number of sub-websites within the umbrella, each catering for different bedroom interests. These include Alt.com, Senior FriendFinder, Amigos.com, BigChurch.com, and others.
Those sites’ member profiles and credit card details were all exposed in the hack.
Online Daters Past and Present: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
As the Ashley Madison hack revealed, it’s typical for dating sites to keep their members’ data indefinitely, even after a given member has quit the site and deleted his or her profile. So even if you’re not currently an online dater, any embarrassing dating profile details, pictures, and message exchanges from the past may yet come back to haunt you.
Even if you feel pretty confident there’s nothing too embarrassing among those items, there’s still good reason for concern. The AM hack also revealed that dating sites may be hanging on to your credit card information long after you’ve quit the service.
How Can I Protect Myself?
With respect to past online dating activity, I’m sorry to say there isn’t really anything you can do to ensure your private data never becomes public. Recent class action lawsuits against Ashley Madison may inspire other dating sites to get serious about deleting past members’ records, but it’s impossible to say for certain.
Going forward, I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to give up on online dating altogether. But it IS very necessary to be aware of what you’re sharing on these sites, and make sure you never post or share anything on them that would cause major embarrassment or difficulty for you if the site were to be hacked.
You can still pay for premium dating site services too, but use a service like PayPal (which never providers its users’ login credentials to outside sites) or a special, separate credit card account for this purpose. If you only ever use that card for premium dating site services, even if your payment data is leaked you will only have one card to report stolen, and the potential financial damage will be minimal. No matter what, NEVER use the debit card that’s tied to your main, household checking or savings account, because a hacker who’s gotten your card number can drain the account in a matter of minutes.
Like I keep saying, there’s no such thing as online privacy. And online dating sites are no exception.
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