“We have the best, most consistent, most precise, most scannable, most accepted, most diverse collection of coupons anywhere. They are not on anyone’s ban list. They are not blacklisted anywhere,” reads PurpleLotus’s vendor profile on Agora, the largest currently active black market on the Dark Web. “They will save you a ton of money…If you use the coupons for the everyday things that you normally buy, the golden goose will continue to lay golden eggs.”
In addition to those packages of pre-made coupons, ThePurpleLotus also offered a $200 package of “coupon-making lessons.” That counterfeit digital guide included a powerpoint presentation showing the step-by-step process of coupon fraud, from generating bar codes to copying legitimate-looking logos and watermarks. In an accompanying video, set to a tasteful soundtrack of Bach piano compositions, he demonstrates the technique on screen.
In his tutorials, ThePurpleLotus explained the simple breakdown of barcode creation using the increasingly universal GS1 standard: GS1 codes begin with a “company prefix” that can be copied from any of the company’s products. The next six digits are the “offer code,” which can be any random number for a counterfeit coupon, followed by the savings amount listed in cents and the required number of item purchases necessary to receive the discount. “You can be up and running and making coupons in an hour,” PurpleLotus’s guide reads. “The more you make the faster you get…You are a coupon ninja if you can make one in under two minutes.”
In fact, ThePurpleLotus’s schemes demonstrate how absurdly easy coupon fraud remains, Beauchamp argues. She points to the insecure method of coupon verification that major retailers like Target, Walmart, and many others use—which essentially amounts to no authentication, only a blacklists of known fraudulent coupons like one maintained by an industry group known as the Coupon Information Center. A coupon fraudster can merely use the publicly available GS1 barcode algorithm to encode whatever discount they want into a new fake coupon. If it’s not yet on that blacklist and looks realistic to the cashier, it’s accepted, says Beauchamp. “Usually the cashiers don’t even take the time to question it. If it ‘beeps,’ it’s good,” she says.
Beauchamp notes that when a counterfeit coupon is spotted at the register, consumers often say they were given the coupon by a friend or “found it on the internet” and face no consequences. Other coupon fraudsters are careful to use self checkout at large stores, as Wattigney advised one customer in a message included in the indictment.
“Every day new codes get added to the blacklist,” says Beauchamp. But new fraudulent coupons are being created at a faster rate than ever, she says. “The problem is that it’s a blacklist, not a whitelist. And that affects the whole industry.”
The weapon in question: Boeing’s “CHAMP,” short for Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project. It’s essentially the old nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapon that we used to worry so much about — but without the nuclear part. CHAMP carries a small generator that emits microwaves to fry electronics with pinpoint accuracy. It targets not nations or cities but individual buildings, blacking out their electronics rather than blowing up physical targets (or people).
What makes CHAMP even more interesting is that, unlike a nuclear electromagnetic pulse weapon, which fires once, blacking out entire nation-states, CHAMP can fire multiple times, pinpointing and blacking out only essential targets. This would permit, for example, taking down radar defenses in a hostile state, while saving the electrical grid that supports the civilian population. In a 2012 test flight in Utah, a single CHAMP was reported to have blacked out seven separate targets in succession, in one single mission.
Even back then, a Boeing representative was able to boast: “We hit every target we wanted to,” predicting further that “in the near future, this technology may be used to render an enemy’s electronic and data systems useless even before the first troops or aircraft arrive.” Three years later, that future has arrived. Air Force Research Laboratory commander Maj. Gen. Tom Masiello says CHAMP is “an operational system already in our tactical air force.”
In a stunning discovery that overturns decades of textbook teaching, researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have determined that the brain is directly connected to the immune system by vessels previously thought not to exist. That such vessels could have escaped detection when the lymphatic system has been so thoroughly mapped throughout the body is surprising on its own, but the true significance of the discovery lies in the effects it could have on the study and treatment of neurological diseases ranging from autism to Alzheimer’s disease to multiple sclerosis.
“Instead of asking, ‘How do we study the immune response of the brain?’ ‘Why do multiple sclerosis patients have the immune attacks?’ now we can approach this mechanistically. Because the brain is like every other tissue connected to the peripheral immune system through meningeal lymphatic vessels,” said Jonathan Kipnis, PhD, professor in the UVA Department of Neuroscience and director of UVA’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG). “It changes entirely the way we perceive the neuro-immune interaction. We always perceived it before as something esoteric that can’t be studied. But now we can ask mechanistic questions.”
“We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it, these vessels may play a major role,” Kipnis said. “Hard to imagine that these vessels would not be involved in a [neurological] disease with an immune component.”
The unexpected presence of the lymphatic vessels raises a tremendous number of questions that now need answers, both about the workings of the brain and the diseases that plague it. For example, take Alzheimer’s disease. “In Alzheimer’s, there are accumulations of big protein chunks in the brain,” Kipnis said. “We think they may be accumulating in the brain because they’re not being efficiently removed by these vessels.” He noted that the vessels look different with age, so the role they play in aging is another avenue to explore. And there’s an enormous array of other neurological diseases, from autism to multiple sclerosis, that must be reconsidered in light of the presence of something science insisted did not exist.
But now we’re we’re entering the age of infrastructure gadgets. Thanks to devices like Tesla’s household battery, Powerwall, electrical grid technology that was once hidden behind massive barbed wire fences, owned by municipalities and counties, is now seeping slowly into our homes. And this isn’t just about alternative energy like solar. It’s about how we conceive of what technology is. It’s about what kinds of gadgets we’ll be buying for ourselves in 20 years.
It’s about how the kids of tomorrow won’t freak out over terabytes of storage. They’ll freak out over kilowatt-hours.
Beyond transforming our relationship to energy, though, the infrastructure age is about where we expect computers to live. The so-called internet of things is a big part of this. Our computers aren’t living in isolated boxes on our desktops, and they aren’t going to be inside our phones either. The apps in your phone won’t always suck you into virtual worlds, where you can escape to build treehouses and tunnels in Minecraft. Instead, they will control your home, your transit, and even your body.
Once you accept that the thing our ancestors called the information superhighway will actually be controlling cars on real-life highways, you start to appreciate the sea change we’re witnessing. The internet isn’t that thing in there, inside your little glowing box. It’s in your washing machine, kitchen appliances, pet feeder, your internal organs, your car, your streets, the very walls of your house. You use your wearable to interface with the world out there.
“Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” (Susan Ertz)
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