The desperate words could just about be deciphered from the sobbing.
“I’m ruined. My family is ruined and my career is gone.”
The crumbling man had just found out that his illicit life of extra-marital affairs was being traded in the darkest recesses of the internet where secrets are currency and nothing is sacred.
He had enjoyed a double life for years, cheating on his wife while supposedly on business trips or at late meetings using a site that promised the “hottest dating, hook-up and sex community” along with total privacy.
It delivered the sex but not the security.
“He wasn’t the only one,” says IT security expert Bev Robb.
“I’ve had lots of men sobbing down the phone to me. I mean they were really crying. They belonged to the site and got up to risky business and now they were a blackmail target.”
Robb, who has tracked the growing threats to online security for 20 years, was instrumental in revealing that the US-based AdultFriendFinder’s database had been hacked a year before the latest cyber invasion into the Ashley Madison site that threatens to expose the sex secrets and identities of its 1.2 million British subscribers.
“It is the same deal. They all had what you describe as normal lives and all thought they were safe,” she says.
“They were really scared and one guy said ‘I will have to look over my shoulder for the rest of my life’. Blackmail is one of the prime reasons for hacking a site like Ashley Madison and many men will have paid up in the past to keep their naughty habits away from their wives and their bosses.”
The exposure of love-cheats’ secrets may provide a cheap thrill but it also serves as a klaxon call to a public naive about the threats from cyber criminals who steal information and then sell it to the highest bidder in the heavily coded corners of the internet known as the Dark or Deep Web.
The daily data stream of emails and texts remains long after we have pressed delete and criminal networks can access it to piece together a jigsaw of information that may open up our financial accounts.
The UK is saturated with technology.
More than 60 per cent of the population have a smart phone and 80 per cent of households are connected to the internet.
It is a prime target for a spectrum of scammers looking to unlock our financial and personal information.
Noel Biderman, the millionaire Canadian entrepreneur behind the Ashley Madison site, boasted in November that his computer servers were safe and “untouchable” while glorying that his business had raked in more than £100million in sign-up fees.
“The perfect affair is meeting someone and not being discovered and we have built a product that gears towards the not being discovered with the anonymous way you sign up, the discreet nature of our communication and the billing platform being secret,” he told Bloomberg TV.
All that came crashing down after hacking organisation The Impact Team last week revealed it had penetrated its firewalls and was about to go public with client details.
“The public is not aware of what is happening down in the Dark Web,” adds Robb.
“There is a huge trade and, although it is more directed at large corporations, they will take all the smaller people down because they are income potential.
“They are in it for the money and don’t care how they get it.
“They use really clever people and are skilled at joining up the dots from small bits of information that people and companies don’t protect.”
Charlie McMurdie, who set up the Metropolitan Police’s central e-crime unit and is now senior cyber security adviser to analysts Pricewaterhouse Coopers, adds: “Cybercrime is so rife and people need to wake up to it.
For the companies that hold and run our data, it is not a question of if they will be hacked but when.
The newer generation of criminals is savvy about technology and harvesting hundreds of thousands of pieces of data is worth millions.
It is low risk with comparatively light sentences compared to armed robbery where you face 15 years’ jail for hundreds of pounds.
Cyber crime is also harder to detect, investigate and prosecute.”
Crime syndicates around the globe either steal data and sell it on or use it for bank and credit fraud to rake in huge profits and launder money.
Pricewaterhouse Coopers’s 2015 survey for the government’s Department of Business, Innovation and Skills revealed that 90 per cent of big organisations had been hacked during 2014 with the cost of each breach through business disruption, lost sales and recovery of assets starting at £1.46million.
Small business attacks jumped by 60 per cent to hit 74 per cent of firms in 2014.
Former professional gambler Tony Colston-Hayter, 49, was jailed for five and a half years at Southwark Crown Court, London, last year for masterminding a £1.2million cyber robbery from Barclays Bank in 2013, of which £708,000 was not recovered.
Experts believe many cyber frauds go unreported because bosses fear publicity will impact on their credibility and customer loyalty.
“It is happening all around the world on a massive scale.
“It is the most prolific crime we are seeing at the moment,” adds McMurdie.