Hundreds of government workers accessed and paid membership fees for the affair-focused website Ashley Madison using their federal Internet connection, The Associated Press reports.
The officials included several assistant U.S. attorneys, a prominent information technology administrator in the White House, a Justice Department trial attorney and at least two Department of Homeland Security employees, one who worked in the agency's hacking division and another who focused on counterterrorism.
The AP uncovered the employees by matching Internet connection details from credit card transactions with government network IP addresses, a number assigned to devices that are a part of an Internet-connected network.
Researchers had previously found over 10,000 genuine government and military email addresses that were tied to Ashley Madison profiles. But the website did not verify emails for free users of the site, so it was difficult to determine the validity of those emails.
The AP said few of the government employees they identified actually used their work emails for the site. But they did use work computers to pay membership fees. The leaked Ashley Madison data included years of credit card transactions, revealing the user’s digital location at the time they paid.
In total, employees from more than two dozen Obama administration agencies were paying to seek out extramarital affairs through the site, according to the AP. Prominent agencies such as the departments of State, Defense, Energy, Treasury and Transportation all had employees accessing the site from their networks. Data showed others paying for Ashley Madison memberships from House and Senate computer networks.
The news service said it is not naming the subscribers because they are neither elected officials nor accused of a crime.
Security experts have warned the embarrassing leaked data — which includes details on sexual preferences and fetishes — could put these government workers at risk of extortion.
Other personal details, such as name, phone number, address and emails, could also leave officials open to highly targeted cyberattacks on federal networks.
Either way, the personal data is likely being added to foreign intelligence agencies' files on U.S. government officials, security specialists said.
The Pentagon said Thursday it is looking into the leak.
“Of course it's an issue, because conduct is very important,” said Defense Secretary Ash Carter in a Thursday briefing. “We expect good conduct on the part of our people.”
Military members can be prosecuted for adultery under Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.