Ashley Madison founder Noel Biderman poses during an interview in Hong Kong in this August 28, 2013 (Reuters) / Reuters

Cyber security experts have confirmed a second major leak from the website

The man who styles himself “The King of Infidelity” is in fact a married father of two who says he has never cheated on his wife. That’s just one of several contradictions surrounding the life and work of Ashley Madison founder Noel Biderman, the controversial Canadian entrepreneur who now finds himself in the eye of a hacking storm.

Mr Biderman is the chief executive of Avid Life Media, the Toronto-based firm best known as the parent company of AshleyMadison.com, which the 44-year-old former lawyer and sports agent founded in 2001. His office wall is reportedly adorned with an ad bearing the site’s slogan: “Life is Short. Have an Affair.”

Yet Mr Biderman has repeatedly insisted that Ashley Madison does not encourage but merely facilitates marital infidelity, telling an interviewer in 2009: “We’re just a platform. No website or 30-second ad is going to convince anyone to cheat. People cheat because their lives aren’t working for them.”

 

Cyber security experts have now confirmed that a second major leak from the website, including emails sent by Mr Biderman, appeared online this week following last month’s breach by hacktivist group The Impact Team and a subsequent online dump of user data. As a result, at least one lawsuit has already been filed against the site in Canada for breach of privacy, while a law firm in Oklahoma is reportedly seeking clients for a similar class-action suit in the US.

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Mr Biderman came up with the idea for a website for prospective adulterers while working closely with sports stars who, he learned, often had wives and mistresses in multiple cities. He has never himself cheated on his wife of 13 years, he told the London Evening Standard in 2014, adding: “But if I woke up beside my wife and it was the 200th day we hadn’t been intimate with one another and it looked like nothing would change, I would cheat so fast.”

When he proposed the idea for the site to his wife early in their relationship, he convinced her by framing it simply as a business opportunity, he said. And while Ashley Madison users’ individual data was always intended to be kept private, their demographics have been used by academics at several US universities to help study infidelity.

Last year, Mr Biderman published a book on the topic, Adultropology: the Cyber-Anthropology Behind Infidelity, a follow-up to his 2011 effort, Cheaters Prosper: How Infidelity will Save the Modern Marriage.

Before this summer’s breach, Avid Life Media had been preparing to float on the London Stock Exchange, but observers expect that IPO to be indefinitely delayed by the breakdown of Ashley Madison’s single most important selling point: privacy. In documents revealed by the latest leak, executives at the firm had expressed concerns about security just a month before the hack. Mr Biderman himself wrote on 17 June that he feared for the confidentiality of the site’s data if its workers were not properly vetted. “An insider data breach would be very harmful,” he wrote.

Mr Biderman has gone to ground since the data breach, and has not tweeted since 17 May, when he posted a link to an interview he had given to Toronto magazine Vv. “If anyone tells you that they don’t fear hacking, they are lying to you,” he said in that interview. “We have done a really great job of making sure our data is kept secret; the anonymity of it hopefully gives comfort to our members.”

The fallout around the world

Israel: Noel Biderman, chief executive of Avid Life Media, which owns Ashley Madison, said during a visit to Israel this year that 170,000 of its citizens belonged to the site. One of the Israeli email accounts has been traced to Talab Abu Arar, a Bedouin Arab who is also a member of the Israeli parliament. Like other Bedouin Arabs he practises polygamy and has a wife and a common-law partner.

“I am not lacking in women,” the politician joked to Israel’s Army Radio. He said someone must have used his parliamentary email address without his knowledge and has asked the police to investigate. “Someone wanted simply to hurt my good name… it is very annoying.”

Australia: According to Luke Metcalfe, a data researcher, more people flocked to the site from Western Australia than from any other part of the country, though people in Brisbane were most likely to have an account with it. One in 50 Brisbanites frequented the site, he said. At least 700 accounts have been linked to government officials, police and members of the military.

One woman told a radio station, live on air, that her husband had been behaving oddly since news of the hack first leaked. The hosts plugged his name into a website and found a match. “Are you freaking kidding me?” she blurted. “These websites are disgusting.”

Saudi Arabia: A French data monitoring company CyberAngel found 1,200 email addresses with the .sa suffix, suggesting users from Saudi Arabia – where infidelity and homosexual acts can be punished by death.

In July, after the site was hacked, one Saudi man aired his fears on the Reddit social sharing site. He had used Ashley Madison while studying in the US. “I was single, but used it because I am gay; gay sex is punishable by death in my home country so I wanted to keep my hook-ups extremely discreet,” he said.

United States: After the Associated Press reported that 15,000 government-connected emails had been found on the site, the Secretary of Defence, Ash Carter, said the Pentagon was “looking into” claims that service members were using Ashley Madison.

Josh Duggar, a former Christian TV reality star, faced humiliation when an account bearing his email address emerged on the site. “I have been the biggest hypocrite ever,” he said in a statement.

David Usborne

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