Saturday, February 06, 2010

Taking Virtual Candy from a Baby

There are many things that I might disagree about with economist Edward Castronova, but his argument that virtual economies at work in games merit study is certainly legitimate. As Castronova and others have pointed out, understanding virtual economies is particularly important as our own economic systems become independent of any substrate of material production and as virtual goods and ethereal substances like attention and membership and trust get assigned dollar values.

Pollution would seem to be something that could function with a commodity market model, since particulates can be measured and tracked as a definite negative good, but the market of carbon credits that might attempt to regulate them functions like other markets with a number of imaginary quantities in play.

Now Wired describes how hackers have broken into online carbon credit databases to steal carbon credits worth real money. The German news station Deutsche Welle describes how "Hackers steal emissions trading certificates" as well. Apparently, it operated as a relatively straightforward phishing venture:

According to the Financial Times Deutschland, the fraudsters sent e-mails to companies in several European countries, as well as in Japan and New Zealand.

They used the official DEHSt logo, and urged the companies in the mails to register again as a hacker attack was allegedly imminent.

The hackers were thus able to gain access to company accounts and transferred their emission certificates to accounts registered in Denmark and Great Britain.

From there they sold the CO2 emission permits on the free market for a thus far undisclosed sum of money.

One medium-sized company in Germany, for instance, reportedly lost permits worth 1.5 million euros ($2.1million).

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