Ono the Ostrich CRISIS MANAGER
The Internet Newsletter about Crisis Management
Editor: Erik Bernstein
Publisher: Jonathan Bernstein

"For Those Who Are Crisis Managers,
Whether They Want to be or Not"

2015 Jonathan Bernstein

Cheaters in Crisis - the Ashley Madison Hack

Volume XVI, Number 12

July 21, 2015

Just a Thought

"The only truly secure system is one that is powered off, cast in a block of concrete and sealed in a lead-lined room with armed guards."

- Gene Spafford

From the Editor
The UCLA Health Systems breach is big news, but when I started reading about the Ashley Madison hack it really got me thinking. For those who haven't yet caught one of their ads or otherwise heard of the service, AshleyMadison.com is a dating site with a twist - everyone there is looking to step outside of their current relationship. With the tagline, "Life is short. Have an affair." it's not surprising that the service has some enemies out there.

Krebs on Security broke the story (as they so often do when it comes to all things cybercrime), reporting that user data, company bank account info, employee network account details and more belonging to parent company Avid Life Media, which also operates sites the sites Cougar Life and Established Men, were exposed by a group calling themselves "The Impact Team". Here's a quote from the Krebs report:

According to the hackers, although the "full delete" feature that Ashley Madison advertises promises "removal of site usage history and personally identifiable information from the site," users' purchase details - including real name and address - aren't actually scrubbed.

"Full Delete netted ALM $1.7mm in revenue in 2014. It's also a complete lie," the hacking group wrote. "Users almost always pay with credit card; their purchase details are not removed as promised, and include real name and address, which is of course the most important information the users want removed."

Their demands continue:

"Avid Life Media has been instructed to take Ashley Madison and Established Men offline permanently in all forms, or we will release all customer records, including profiles with all the customers' secret sexual fantasies and matching credit card transactions, real names and addresses, and employee documents and emails. The other websites may stay online."

What's intriguing to me is that, because of the nature of Ashley Madison itself, standard crisis management procedures for data breaches could actually create more issues. After all, while most customers likely used a sneaky throwaway email to register and receive alerts, what about the form letters typically mailed by banks, or the issuers of the affected credit cards? If those go out it's only a matter of time until significant others start to match up the timing and figure out what was going on, and how much of a backlash against the site will there be once it happens? Another possibility being tossed around is the blackmailing of prominent and wealthy individuals who were users of the site, something that could become a major issue for a number of parties if it comes to fruition.

Beyond that, those who ponied up to have their information "fully removed" are going to have some questions. While nobody at Avid Life/Ashley Madison is required to answer, per se, the company is gambling with its reputation if it chooses to go on with business as usual after this event.

The real question from a business standpoint is one posed frequently by Bernstein Crisis Management president Jonathan Bernstein - "How much pain will it take?". Will Avid Life do the smart thing and go all-in on crisis management now, or will it slap a band-aid on the problem and hope it doesn't happen again?

Regardless of what type of organization you run, you will encounter turning points such as the one Avid Life faces now. How you react, how you communicate, and how you recover will determine whether you thrive or become yet another case study of crisis management gone awry.

For more on the implications of the hack, check out this PRWeek article quoting BCM president Jonathan Bernstein.

- Erik

Interested in reprinting BCM articles or blog posts?
We're happy to give permission for material to be reprinted in hard copy or online!

If you find something you would like to reprint, simply submit a request to jonathan@bernsteincrisismanagement.com.


Our blogs on the Bernstein Crisis Management page and at the Free Management Library are updated all week long with case studies and advice on crisis and reputation management.
Here, we share a look at some of the most popular posts from recent weeks:

Ignoring customer satisfaction is one of the most common ways to spark a reputation crisis. While you can't be a pushover, you need to understand that Negative Customer Experiences Lead to Crises.

A perfect example of the issues unclear wording can create, PayPal's User Agreement Faux Pas caused an ugly situation that almost got out of control.

Sometimes People Die. It's an unfortunate fact, but it's a fact nonetheless. Include the possibility in your planning and avoid interruptions that could impact your operations.

How about a way to take policies and turn them into assets that will help prevent problems for your organization? If that sounds good, check out Crisis Management Quickie: Crisis Prevention through Policy.

We're slapped with reminders of the need to prepare for data breaches on a daily basis now, including examples like the one we review in Government Credentials Found Pasted Around the Web.

Whole Foods' Half-Assed Price Problem Explanation left us with the kind of bad taste in our mouths usually associated with dipping into expired hummus.

The controversial study Millennials don't want you to see! OK, we're not going full clickbait, but you may find the statistics in Are Younger Generations an IT Security Risk? raise some interesting questions within your own organization.

Do you have a topic you'd like to see featured in our blogs? Send an email to erik@bernsteincrisismanagement.com and there's a good chance you'll be seeing it right here in the next issue!

Apropos of Nothing

Make Some Easy Money

Bernstein Crisis Management pays VERY generous referral commissions, a nice chunk of the first year's business from any referred client.

Avoid The Apology
Clueless advertising folks at Anheuser-Busch eliciting widespread anger with a Bud Lite commercial featuring the tagline "The perfect beer for removing 'no' from your vocabulary for the night";

Sea World launching its disastrous #askseaworld campaign, not thinking through how that hashtag could be comically and sadly hijacked;

Starbucks kicking off - and then aborting - its ill-considered "Race Together" campaign; or,

Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart's hand-picked replacement on "The Daily Show," coming under fierce online criticism for anti-Semitic and otherwise insensitive tweets.

So many of the damaging crises we see making headlines and creating costs every day could have been prevented if someone first asked, "What the (expletive deleted) could go wrong with this idea?" That's the premise behind Bernstein Crisis Management's AvoidTheApology.com.

To learn more, email

Bernsteins Available to Deliver Free Guest Lectures, Q&A Sessions

Jonathan alone, or the team of Jonathan and Erik Bernstein, are available at no charge to deliver guest lectures and host Q&A sessions with college classes via Skype or Google Hangout.

For our latest presentation we had the pleasure of speaking with Fred Muir's crisis communications class at USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

The lectures are fun for us and students, and we're more than happy to allow recording for your future use. All you need at your end is a single computer with webcam and a strong broadband connection for us to appear in your classroom in real-time.

Contact us for more info!

Attention Corporate Boards of Directors (and those who serve them).

If you're connected with a corporate board of directors in some way and think that board would benefit from having a veteran crisis management pro amongst its membership, please contact me. -- Jonathan

Business Announcements

(aka blatant self-promotion)

Preparing Candidates for C-Suite Interviews

In 2014, a client familiar with Jonathan Bernstein's media training techniques suggested that the same methods would help her husband, a candidate for a C-Suite position at several companies, be better focused and prepared for his interviews. She was right and, as he moved through the interview process, the candidate received a number of one-hour trianing sessions by Jonathan, via webcam. That candidate is now the CFO of a $23 billion company and is available as a confidential reference.

Jonathan Bernstein is available to provide the same training to others, write jonathan@bernsteincrisismanagement.com
Are Your Social Media Managers Crisis Trained?

A solid social media manager has quickly become a must-have for organizations of any size, and can make an immense difference by driving in customers and building your positive reputation online.

The problem is, the vast majority are simply not equipped to even identify building crises, much less take the steps necessary to cope with and mitigate the damage that can result.

That's where we come in.

Bernstein Crisis Management is now offering crisis management training for social media managers, both independent and in-house, as well as social media firms.

For an overview of our services, estimates, or more information, contact erik@bernsteincrisismanagement.com

Traditional Social Media Training

Want to get your feet wet with social media but don't know where to start? Maybe you have accounts, but aren't sure what to post, or how to reply?

Being active on social media is a must these days, but you have to do it right. Erik Bernstein now offers social media training sessions in person or via Skype for groups and individuals.

For questions or pricing info, please email erik@bernsteincrisismanagement.com

Expanded Crisis Manager Bookstore

We've recently expanded the Crisis Manager Bookstore to include offerings from esteemed colleagues like Melissa Agnes, Gerald Baron, Chris Syme and Jim Lukaszewski that cover topics from crisis communication and traditional PR to social media and cutting-edge crisis management. We'll be adding other authors we admire in the weeks ahead.

Visit the new Crisis Manager Bookstore to see all of the material available now!

Keeping the Wolves at Bay: Media Training

Book Cover

Learn how to deal with traditional or social media during a crisis in this educational and entertaining guide from

Crisis Manager publisher Jonathan Bernstein.

$25 for hard copy, $10 for PDF.

Head to the Crisis Manager Bookstore for more information and/or to purchase.


Whether you're a seasoned manager, aspiring up-and-comer, or student of crisis management, Jonathan Bernstein's textbook,Manager's Guide to Crisis Management will put you in control of any situation.

Guest Authors

Guest authors are very welcome to submit material for "Crisis Manager." There is no fee paid, but most guest authors have reported receiving business inquiries as a result of appearing in this publication. Case histories, experience-based lessons, commentary on current news events and editorial opinion are all eligible for consideration. Submission is not a guarantee of acceptance.

About Us


Jonathan Bernstein is both publisher of Crisis Manager and president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., a national crisis management public relations agency providing 24/7 access to crisis response professionals. The agency engages in the full spectrum of crisis management services: crisis prevention, response, planning & training. He has been in the public relations field since 1982, following five-year stints in both military intelligence and investigative reporting.

Write to Jonathan at: jonathan@bernsteincrisismanagement.com.

Erik Bernstein is vice president of Bernstein Crisis Management. Erik started with BCM in 2009 as a writer and subsequently became social media manager for the consultancy itself as well as for a number of BCM clients before moving to the VP position.

Write to Erik at: erik@bernsteincrisismanagement.com.

Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc. is located at 700 S. Myrtle Ave., #404, Monrovia, CA 91016. Telephone: (626) 825-3838.

Legal Disclaimer (aka the small print)

All information contained herein is obtained by Jonathan Bernstein from sources believed by Jonathan Bernstein to be accurate and reliable.

Because of the possibility of human and mechanical error as well as other factors, neither Jonathan Bernstein nor Bernstein Crisis Management is responsible for any errors or omissions. All information is provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Bernstein Crisis Management and Jonathan Bernstein make no representations and disclaim all express, implied, and statutory warranties of any kind to the user and/or any third party including, without limitation, warranties as to accuracy, timeliness, completeness, merchantability, or fitness for any particular purpose.

Unless due to willful tortuous misconduct or gross negligence, Jonathan Bernstein and Bernstein Crisis Management shall have no liability in tort, contract, or otherwise (and as permitted by law, product liability), to the user and/or any third party.

Under no circumstance shall Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein be liable to the user and/or any third party for any lost profits or lost opportunity, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, or punitive damages whatsoever, even if Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein has been advised of the possibility of such damages.

A service of this newsletter is to provide news summaries and/or snippets to readers. In such instances articles and/or snippets will be reprinted as they are received from the originating party or as they are displayed on the originating website or in the original article. As we do not write the news, we merely point readers to it, under no circumstance shall Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein be liable to the user and/or any third party for any lost profits or lost opportunity, indirect, special, consequential, incidental, or punitive damages whatsoever due to the distribution of said news articles or snippets that lead readers to a full article on a news service's website, even if Bernstein Crisis Management or Jonathan Bernstein has been advised of the possibility of such damages. Authors of the original news story and their publications shall be exclusively held liable. Any corrections to news stories are not mandatory and shall be printed at the discretion of the list moderator after evaluation on a case-by-case basis.

In This Issue
Just A Thought
Apropos of Nothing
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