Image Credit: Netflix

Who Hacked Ashley Madison And Why? The Biggest Revelations From The Netflix Doc

I am absolutely living for the documentaries of 2024! This is the era of big reveals, and I have a front-row seat for it. My latest obsession? The Ashley Madison documentary on Netflix. Like the creators of Ashley Madison: Sex, Lies & Scandal claim, I’m not here to judge the behavior of the adulterers or the website, just to witness the drama. Either way, I am gasping for air after all of these reveals, so join me for a wild, wild ride as we review the doc and recap WTF we just watched. 

What Is Ashley Madison?

Ashley Madison was a website where married people could have an affair. They prided themselves on selling secrecy and discretion, as both parties had something to lose and knew the situation going in. But it soon became known for something very different.

I thought the origin story for the Brandy Melville name was strange, but nope. Apparently, we’re all just coming up with crazy names for businesses. In this case, Ashley Madison was birthed by combining the two most popular girls’ names. 

The Impact Team: What Happened With the Ashley Madison Hack?

In July 2015, an anonymous group called “The Impact Team” hacked the Ashley Madison database. They claimed they would release the information after 30 days unless the website was shut down. The team and police tried to find the hackers but did not manage within the timeframe, so a batch of information was leaked, followed by another load that included CEO Noel Biderman’s own emails.

Quick moment for the cyber team they recruited to try find the hackers. Joel Erikson is hilarious and deserves his own show, something along the lines of Catfish. His bestie Andre is also hilarious and notably says “I don’t judge, I’m a Swede.”

Who Leaked the Ashley Madison Data?

THIS WAS NEVER FOUND!! Despite Andre and Joel being on the case (cue theme song), they didn’t find the culprit. If they couldn’t, no one could, I mean did you see Joel’s sunglasses???

Everyone has theories about who it might be. Some think it’s a disgruntled spouse of a user, but like who would risk cheating on such a good hacker? Many believe it is the work of a religious group, as the messaging indicated that they didn’t approve of such behavior being encouraged. A hilarious thought is that it was spearheaded by divorce lawyers, as their business was BOOMING after this. 

Joel (our bestie cyber boy) thinks it could’ve been an inside job!!! A PR stunt!! As bad press is good press or whatever they say in Sweden, right? He thought it was Noel until the personal emails came out. Could it have been someone else in the Ashley Madison team?

Joseph Cox, a journalist writing about cybersecurity and the digital underground, managed to get in touch with The Impact Team when covering the story. The hackers described Ashley Madison to be “like a drug dealer abusing addicts.” He also noted that he had never heard of them before this case, and never since. It’s almost like this is the only job they cared about, suggesting a personal link to the website. Some question if it was a team at all, since the half-a-million dollar reward would’ve turned team members against each other, but no one ever spoke up. 

What Was Revealed in the Ashley Madison Leak?

First and foremost: a bunch of personal details about users, including email addresses, contact info, sexual preferences, and more. A bunch of celebrities were also revealed to have used the website. The media went wild with these lists, and websites were made where you could check if your partner had an account.

But aside from the info leak, the reveal of CEO Noel’s emails also shed a lot of light on fraudulent behavior for the website:

  1. Despite claiming many women had accounts, this was untrue! Instead, they made fake accounts for women (including Michelle McGee, who is known for having an affair with Jesse James and was approached by strange men as a result). They utilized bots for these women, and occasionally, Customer Services would type fake messages. People were paying for credits to contact these “women.”
  2. They offered a service where you could pay for a full deletion of your account details, but this was COMPLETELY FAKE! It did nothing! Can you imagine the people who paid for that thinking they would be safe throughout news of the leak?

All the Celebrities Who Used Ashley Madison

Naturally, there were some familiar names on the list, which everyone was eager to get their hands on. Here’s a list of the celebrities named in the Ashley Madison data leak and what they had to say about it:

  1. Josh Duggar. He found his fame on TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting among his huge brood of siblings. He was already under investigation for the molestation of five underage girls, which included two of his sisters. He was revealed to have used the site, and many believe this sealed his fate in the court of public opinion. 
  2. Political figures like former Louisiana GOP Jason Dore and former Florida state attorney Jeff Ashton were both in the Ashley Madison leak. “I hope the public will judge me on my 35 years of service, and not a bad mistake,” Ashton said. He also claimed that he never cheated on his wife, and signed up for it out of curiosity.  Dore claimed he made the account for research purposes. 
  3. Hunter Biden’s name came up in the leak, but he has vehemently denied involvement with the site. In a statement to CNN at the time, he said, “This account was clearly set up by someone else without my knowledge, and I first learned about the account in question from the media.”
  4. Snooki’s hubby!! Jionni LaValle was also named in the Ashley Madison reveal but has denied this. He and reality icon Snooki are still married.
  5. Josh Taekman, the hubby of Real Housewives of New York City star Kristen Taekman was shown to have an account. At the time, he released a statement, “I signed up for the site foolishly and ignorantly with a group of friends, and I deeply apologize for any embarrassment or pain I have brought to my wife and family. We both look forward to moving past this and getting on with our lives.” They’re still married today.
  6. A New Orleans pastor and seminary professor, John Gibson, had a membership to Ashley Madison. He was confronted by Church leaders and didn’t deny anything before offering his resignation. He didn’t reveal anything to his wife upon arriving home, and the next morning, Christi found him in the garage after he’d died by suicide. Christi was included in the documentary, where she didn’t seem to hold resentment about the affair, but rather how the media had run wild with it, and how this shame had led to his death. 
  7. Popular Christian vloggers Sam and Nia Rader were major parts of the documentary. The former explained what led him to sign up and use Ashley Madison and its effects on their relationship. He was outed in the data leak. 

The Tale of Sam and Nia

Okay, let’s talk about Sam and Nia. I must say I respect the fact that they went all-in for the documentary, as they were one of the few willing to discuss what happened. 

Right away, Sam introduces himself by discussing how his father left when he was 13, so “nobody ever really taught [him] about love,” which obviously led him to cheat. He also discusses the film Big Fish in length, and don’t get me wrong — I love Ewan McGregor, too — but is this really an explanation for cheating? 

It’s so painful to hear them speak of their early marriage. It’s all “he really loves me” and “she really was my everything,” like YIKES. Apparently, Sam got bored quickly, with a great visual of him jumping in the pool for no reason. “Life became monotonous,” so he followed the Ashley Madison motto and went all in with the screen name “Dirty Little Secret Man.” I am not even kidding. I won’t address that further as I think it speaks for itself. Sam also clarifies that he even “spelled everything correctly” — do you want a sticker for that?? 

So Sam goes all-in messaging ladies on the website. “I responded to everyone in my area. Once that was exhausted,” he then messaged people further away. I’m sorry but does this mean no one in his area responded? That is embarrassing, props to him for admitting this. Like this might be worse than the affair for Nia.

Meanwhile Nia feels the distance and is going above and beyond to be “the perfect wife” (sobbing). But Sam explains that Frozen changed everything. Yes, Frozen, the 2013 Disney Princess movie. Sam and Nia went viral for lipsyncing to “Love is an Open Door” in the car, with a video in which they referred to themselves as “good looking parents.” They kept climbing the ranks of family vlogging, including a viral video where Sam tested Nia’s pee to find out she was pregnant. 

End of the day, leak happens. Sam makes an apology video where he claims he only had an account but didn’t use it. His biggest regret is people doubting his Christian values… I’m just going to leave that there.

The couple took some time apart, did some marriage counseling, and are back in the saddle. 

I’m Coming For Ya, Noel!!!

Seeing how Noel used himself and his wife for promo already gave me a bit of the ick. Naturally people asked whether he was unfaithful since he was legit leading a company for people finding affairs. He claimed not, and even used his wife on billboards. I’m guessing you can see where this is going… his emails and site membership were also revealed in the leak. Not only was Noel cheating on his wife, but he was frequently getting escorts, and specifying that he wanted them 18 or 19 years old. For reference, he was in his 40s by this point. 

Well, unsurprisingly, Noel was fired from his job.  However now, according to Forbes, “Noel Biderman is currently the CEO of Avenue Insights, a Toronto-based software company that helps small to mid-size organizations improve data collection, according to his LinkedIn page.” 

His only contribution to the documentary was a quote from his lawyer,  “Mr. Biderman is — and was — a committed husband and father.” Mmkay. 

Is Ashley Madison Still in Business?

No company could come back from such a data leak, right? Not only were all their client’s confidential information revealed online, but also the company’s fraudulent practices. People were literally paying to speak to Cathy in Customer Services (no hate to Cathy!). But the company is doing better than ever somehow!! They’ve got like 75 million users. But our queer icon left as it was too corporate.

Fleurine Tideman
Fleurine Tideman
Fleurine Tideman, a European-based copywriter. She’s interesting (cause she’s from Europe), speaks multiple languages (again, she's from Europe), and is mentally unhinged (despite socialized healthcare). You can find her European musings on Twitter @ByFleurine and her blog, Symptoms of Living, both of which are written to the sounds of unhinged Taylor Swift playlists.