News: Site built to enable adultery faces an FTC investigation.
Ashley Madison, the adultery website which made headlines last year following a cyber attack, is facing an investigation by the US Federal Trade Commission.
The probe facing Avid Life Media, parent company of Ashley Madison, concerns the use of automated software called ‘fembots’, which impersonated real women in a bid to lure male customers.
The use of fembots came to light after Avid commissioned a report by Ernst & Young to analyse the aftermath of the 2015 data breach. The report, seen by Reuters, confirmed the use of fembots and software-enhanced messages.
It also showed that Avid made a move to shut these fembots down, with the company claiming to have shut down fake profiles in 2014 in the US, Canada and Australia. However, Reuters did report that the document also confirmed that some US-based customers were still being targeted by fembots until late 2015.
Bots have been an increasing cyber threat for many years, evolving and posing new challenges to both consumer and business. Javvad Malik, Security Advocate at AlienVault, said: "The challenge with bots getting better is the role they can play by fooling users into believing they’re interacting with a real person. The nefarious uses for such bots is extensive, and presents challenges from a technical as well as a human element. Bots can be used to drive up traffic, launch DDoS attacks, or harvest personal data from social media.
"It means another layer of security for website owners to consider – and another layer of awareness for users."
Although Avid has stated that it does not know the full scope of the FTC probe, it is yet another blow to a company trying to revive credibility.
In July 2015, Ashley Madison hit the headlines following a huge data breach carried out by a group calling itself ‘The Impact Team’. Huge troves of data were compromised, with many fearing that their personal information would be leaked. The impact of the data breach was two-fold – firstly, a spotlight was put on the ethics behind the website which billed itself as an enabler of extramarital affairs, and two the sub-par security which allowed the breach. The latter resulted in public shaming, class action lawsuits, and cost Avid more than a quarter of its revenue.
The hiring of new CEO Rob Segal and president James Millership in April was just one step in trying to turn the company’s fortunes around, a plan once again derailed by technology – this time not hackers, but fembots.