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Infidelity wars escalate online

Bad loving ain’t easy.

So many traps to fall into, so many mistakes to make, so many ways to flub up. Even the nation’s spy chief couldn’t get away with it, couldn’t keep a secret extramarital affair secret forever. If David Petraeus couldn’t do it, well, how could anyone else convince themselves they could pull it off?

But, you see, they do try. Every day. Their venues may sometimes be cliched – motel rooms or the back seats of parked cars – but their methods are often less prosaic. In the hunt for bad loving, some people will do almost anything.

Whole new identities are created. Elaborate banking labyrinths appear and disappear. Passwords morph, then morph again ... then morph again. It all sounds so plausible, so utterly doable, at the time. Then, wham, some private eye with a video camera shows up and it’s all over (or, in Petraeus’s case, some guy with FBI email peeping powers).

“Somebody’s going to make a mistake,” says Bill Mitchell, a private investigator and self-styled “infidelity expert.”

This digital world that we live in has made it only tougher on the unfaithful – not that they deserve a break, or anything, right? Each panting email, each naughty text, each sneaky-rendezvous call is neatly logged with a digital signature.

“Even when they delete everything, it’s still on the hard drive,” says Sandy Ain, a well-known divorce lawyer in Washington. “If computers are discovered during litigation or by an enterprising suspicious spouse, the information is readily available.”

Makes a person think twice about e-v-e-r-y single w-o-r-d he says – or types.

“Unless you’re a Russian cyber criminal, anything online is potentially public,” says Paul Saffo, a technology futurist, or forecaster. “There are things in my life I would not write in email but would say on the phone, but I wouldn’t leave on voice mail. There are conversations I’d not have on the phone, and those I’d only have in a field with no one around for a half-mile.”

It’s all about proportionality, he says. Online information is at risk, but “if you really worry about who can run up your tailpipe, before you know it you’re wearing a tinfoil hat on your head.”

But that’s what cheating spouses do. They worry.

The disposable cellphone is a new favorite mode of assuaging all that fretting and concealing all that bad behavior. See a man talking on one of those, and you might be seeing a “big sign of a cheating spouse,” says Jim Casteel, a private investigator in Birmingham, Ala., who has been chasing philandering spouses for more than two decades.

But the computer is the bigger tipoff, says Casteel; it’s the focal point of deception and the vector for discovery. Frequently, the men and women he chases set up dummy email accounts under phony names, thinking they’ll avoid detection. But few can carry on without raising suspicions, and a suspicious spouse can turn into a resourceful one, he says.

It’s common now, he says, for wary spouses to install spyware on their computers to surreptitiously track every keystroke and glimpse each website that gets visited.

Worst-case scenario for those spyware-installing spouses? That would be AshleyMadison.com, a website whose motto is “Life is short. Have an affair.”

The site, which claims to get 1.8 million visitors per month, is a kind of electronic labyrinth of its own, designed, operated and maintained to keep cheating spouses safely inside and cuckolded spouses safely out.

Servers are kept outside the United States for extra protection should, say, an FBI agent or divorce lawyer come knocking.

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