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Animal Crossing's Nook Miles Tickets have become a bizarre trading currency – Eurogamer.net

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Something I suspect Nintendo never imagined when developing Animal Crossing: New Horizons was that Nook Miles Tickets – the coupons which can be used to visit mysterious deserted islands – would become a form of virtual currency. In the Animal Crossing trading community, large numbers of Nook Miles Tickets (abbreviated to NMT) are currently changing hands, and the whole thing feels rather weird. And, as ever, we’re at the point where people are selling them in bulk for real money.

NMT, for those who need a briefing, can be bought in-game with Nook Miles: points which are earned by completing various tasks such as planting flowers, fishing, or chopping trees. Once you’ve completed most of the game’s major milestones, you can still earn them from Nook Miles Plus – a rolling list of challenges, which places some limits on the rate at which you can earn them. These Nook Miles can then be spent on a limited selection of items and recipes, along with tickets to visit mystery islands. But given it takes a while to properly “clear” a Nook Miles island, and the rewards for doing so are often quite low, why are NMT suddenly in such high demand?

If only these grew on trees.

There are a couple of explanations here, but it seems the main factor driving demand is villagers. On Twitter, Reddit and other social media platforms, the Animal Crossing community has developed a number of favourite villagers – such as dapper cat Raymond or wannabe popstar Audie – and everyone wants them on their island. There’s a slang term for this: dreamies, short for dream villagers, and some sites have even created tier listings to rank their popularity. And price.

NMT are essentially lottery tickets to find new villagers on desert islands, and as such, it’s possible to burn through a whole bunch of them when looking for your desired character (particularly considering there are over 400 villagers in New Horizons). On the other end of this, there’s also a lot of people willing to splash NMT on their favourite villager without the painful process of searching dozens of islands. See where this is going?

Finally got Raymond after 255+ NMT! :’) from r/AnimalCrossing

On Discord servers, it’s easy to spot this NMT-villager trading cycle in action, with less popular villagers being sold for between 20-40 NMT, and community favourites like Raymond fetching prices of over 800 NMT. Raymond, specifically, seems to have become some sort of Animal Crossing status symbol as the number one desired villager. Some traders have even developed offer systems whereby players can either bid NMT for a villager, or buy them outright for a steep NMT price.

It’s possible to transfer villagers when they’re at a stage known as ‘in boxes’. Buyers visit an island and talk to the villager to convince them to move back to their island.

Although villager trading forms the core of the NMT economy, the coupons are now being used as currency to buy items on trading sites such as Nookazon, or as I discovered, as an entry fee to sell turnips for a high price. Last Saturday, in my desperation to sell my stocks of turnips before they spoiled the next day, I hit up the trading site Turnip Exchange, where players can open up their islands to the public to sell their turnips. While some kind-hearted folk open up their islands for free (or non-compulsory “tips”), many ask for an entry fee of either Bells, rare items or NMT, ranging from 2 to 20 NMT per trip. It was a similar scene inside the Animal Crossing trading Discords, and as it was the last possible chance to sell turnips, traders were definitely feeling opportunistic – with some asking for as many as 30 NMT for a visit. I opted for selling my turnips for a lower price at a friend’s place.

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If you think about it, they’re charging a transaction fee for people exchanging turnips for bells, like a bank. I guess they are visiting a foreign island.

NMT entry fees are also being charged for another form of trading called item cataloguing (or touch trading). This is the process by which the seller drops a rare item on the floor, the buyer picks it up, and then returns the item to the seller. They can then use their Nook Stop machine back at their own island to order the item. So, to be clear, you don’t actually acquire the item – you just unlock the option to buy it.

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If you were wondering what stops people just stealing items, you can disconnect the session by putting your Switch on sleep mode, which returns the island to the state it was in before the session began.

There’s a practical element to using NMT as currency, as the game’s actual in-game currency is difficult to move in large amounts. Once a player’s wallet has 99.99k Bells, they stack as 99k each in the player inventory – which can fill up surprisingly fast if you’re wanting to transfer as much as 8m for a villager. NMT, meanwhile, stack 10 at a time – but their perceived value is much higher than a 99k Bell stack, meaning you don’t need to carry as many between islands for trades (with 40 inventory slots and the wallet, you can carry about 4.06m Bells at a time). Bells are also fairly easy to produce thanks to the in-game Stalk Market mechanic, meaning their trading value is reduced. If you’ve ever seen photos of Germans wheeling barrels of Marks around to buy bread during the hyperinflation crisis of the 1920s, it’s a similar situation with Bells. But with less severe consequences.

It’s currently quite difficult to pin down the exact value of NMT, as traders often decide an item or villager’s value on a whim, meaning the exchange rate is constantly in flux. A recent thread on The Bell Tree trading forum currently estimates one NMT as being equivalent to 200k Bells, although some are still buying for 250k. On Nookazon, NMT are currently being listed for around 100k-200k Bells per ticket. So even at their current lowest price, an inventory full of NMT would equate to 40m Bells, ten times the amount an inventory full of Bells would get you – something that’s pretty useful for traders.

If you try to sell a NMT at Nook’s Cranny, however, you’ll only get 10k from Timmy and Tommy. They must be making a fortune selling these onto the market.

And aside from all this, there’s also just the classic currency belief system at play: once people decided NMT had value, people started collecting and trading them for other items – and things escalated to the point we’re at today. Some have speculated that duping is being used to produce hundreds of tickets, but a more likely explanation is people have simply traded their way into acquiring stacks of NMT in order to buy their dream villagers and items, thus producing those ridiculous prices. Will we see further NMT inflation? With so many moving parts to the Animal Crossing trading economy, it’s hard to say.

Of course, if you want to skip the entire in-game grind with real money, it seems that’s now an option. Sensing demand for NMT, dozens of listings have appeared on eBay offering both Bells and Nook Miles tickets for real-world cash, and people seem to be buying them. I guess the tickets could be useful for item trading, but honestly, it’s probably easier just to buy an amiibo if you want a specific villager. Unless you want Raymond, which will set you back £35 for a trade, apparently.

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The whole trading economy seems to be getting steadily greedier, and it feels like the community has somehow managed to build its own microtransaction system where there was none: with NMT as a premium currency, and a loot box at the core in the form of Nook Miles Islands. And while villager trading was certainly present in previous games such as New Leaf, the addition of NMT – along with a lot of probably bored people sat inside during lockdown – appears to have pushed trading to new heights. Aside from trading for real-world money, it seems fairly harmless, if a little disturbing given the entire thing is built around trading villagers… and somewhat exploitative of people’s desire to have their favourite character. With this new-found knowledge of Audie’s worth, I hope I won’t start looking at her differently.

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Cyberattack exposes lack of required defenses on U.S. pipelines

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The shutdown of the biggest U.S. fuel pipeline by a ransomware attack highlights a systemic vulnerability: Pipeline operators have no requirement to implement cyber defenses.

The U.S. government has had robust, compulsory cybersecurity protocols for most of the power grid for about 10 years to prevent debilitating hacks by criminals or state actors.

But the country’s 2.7 million miles (4.3 million km) of oil, natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines have only voluntary measures, which leaves security up to the individual operators, experts said.

“Simply encouraging pipelines to voluntarily adopt best practices is an inadequate response to the ever-increasing number and sophistication of malevolent cyber actors,” Richard Glick, the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), said.

Protections could include requirements for encryption, multifactor authentication, backup systems, personnel training and segmenting networks so access to the most sensitive elements can be restricted.

FERC’s authority to impose cyber standards on the electric grid came from a 2005 law but it does not extend to pipelines.

Colonial Pipeline, the largest U.S. oil products pipeline and source of nearly half the supply on the East Coast, has been shut since Friday after a ransomware attack the FBI attributed to DarkSide, a group cyber experts believe is based in Russia or Eastern Europe.

The outage has led to higher gasoline prices in the U.S. South and worries about wider shortages and potential price gouging ahead of the Memorial Day holiday.

Colonial did not immediately respond to a query about whether cybersecurity standards should be mandatory.

The American Petroleum Institute lobbying group said it was talking with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Energy Department and others to understand the threat and mitigate risk.

THIN STAFFING

Cyber oversight of pipelines falls to the TSA, an office of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which has provided voluntary security guidelines to pipeline companies.

The General Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog, said in a 2019 report that the TSA only had six full-time employees in its pipeline security branch through 2018, which limited the office’s reviews of cybersecurity practices.

The TSA said it has since expanded staff to 34 positions on pipeline and cybersecurity. It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it supports mandatory protections.

When asked by reporters whether the Biden administration would put in place rules, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said it was discussing administrative and legislative options to “raise the cyber hygiene across the country.”

President Joe Biden is hoping Congress will pass a $2.3 billion infrastructure package, and pipeline requirements could be put into that legislation. But experts said there was no quick fix.

“The hard part is who do you tell what to do and what do you tell them to do,” Christi Tezak, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, said.

U.S. Representatives Fred Upton, a Republican, and Bobby Rush, a Democrat, said on Wednesday they have reintroduced legislation requiring the Department of Energy to ensure the security of natural gas and hazardous liquid pipelines. Such legislation could get folded into a wider bill.

The power grid is regulated by FERC, and mostly organized into nonprofit regional organizations. That made it relatively easy for legislators to put forward the 2005 law that allows FERC to approve mandatory cyber measures.

A range of public and private companies own pipelines. They mostly operate independently and lack a robust federal regulator.

Their oversight falls under different laws depending on what they carry. Products include crude oil, fuels, water, hazardous liquids and – potentially – carbon dioxide for burial underground to control climate change. This diversity could make it harder for legislators to impose a unified requirement.

Tristan Abbey, a former aide to Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski who worked at the White House national security council under former President Donald Trump, said Congress is both the best and worst way to tackle the problem.

“Legislation may be necessary when jurisdiction is ambiguous and agencies lack resources,” said Abbey, now president of Comarus Analytics LLC.

But a bill should not be seen as a magic wand, he said.

“Standards may be part of the answer, but federal regulations need to mesh with state requirements without stifling innovation.”

 

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Marguerita Choy)

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U.S. senator asks firms about sales of hard disk drives to Huawei

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A senior Republican U.S. senator on Tuesday asked the chief executives of Toshiba America Electronic Components, Seagate Technology, and Western Digital Corp if the companies are improperly supplying Huawei with foreign-produced hard disk drives.

Senator Roger Wicker, the ranking member of the Commerce Committee, said a 2020 U.S. Commerce Department regulation sought to “tighten Huawei’s ability to procure items that are the direct product of specified U.S. technology or software, such as hard disk drives.”

He said he was engaged “in a fact-finding process… about whether leading global suppliers of hard disk drives are complying” with the regulation.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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Colonial Pipeline hackers stole data on Thursday

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The hackers who caused Colonial Pipeline to shut down on Friday began their cyberattack against the top U.S. fuel pipeline operator a day earlier and stole a large amount of data, Bloomberg News reported citing people familiar with the matter.

The attackers are part of a cybercrime group called DarkSide and took nearly 100 gigabytes of data out of Colonial’s network in just two hours on Thursday, Bloomberg reported late Saturday, citing two people involved in the company’s investigation.

Colonial did not immediately reply to an email from Reuters seeking comment outside usual U.S. business hours.

Colonial Pipeline shut its entire network, the source of nearly half of the U.S. East Coast’s fuel supply, after a cyber attack that involved ransomware.

 

(Reporting by Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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