Reports of so-called “ransomware” cybercrime have been increasing, with stories of high-profile attacks against vital infrastructure, transportation, food production and medical facilities. A ferry system in Massachusetts, a major petroleum pipeline in the eastern U.S., as well as more than 560 healthcare facilities nationwide have been targeted. According to a recent report by National Public Radio, the U.S. suffered 65,000 ransomware attacks last year – that’s more than seven an hour.
The Director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, recently told a House Judiciary Committee hearing: “We think the cyber threat is increasing almost exponentially.” He continued, “Ransomware alone, the total volume of amounts paid in ransomware has tripled over the last year, we’re investigating 100 different ransomware variants.”
How does cybercrime work and who do they target?
The method of operation of the cyber crooks is to invade a computer system and encrypt the files thereon. They then hold up the business, organization or institution for a large payment in order to obtain a key to unlock their files. The cyberattacks have thus far primarily targeted large, deep-pocket companies and organizations. However, the effects of ransomware fraud can and will affect everyone who uses government services, public transportation, medical institutions or banking, or who consumes food and water.
What does cybercrime have to do with RVs?
You may be asking yourself: “What does this have to do with RVs?” Leaving aside for now the issue of cyber crooks hacking individuals’ computers, smartphones, household or computerized RV systems, the issue is, how can you use your RV in an emergency arising out of a large-scale cyberattack on public utilities or institutions?
First of all, your RV could well become a lifesaver if a major catastrophe occurs. That could be whether it involves the U.S. electrical grid, public utilities such as municipal water or power providers, or the food supply chain. For instance, last week, the U.S. Government issued a statement acknowledging that the electrical grid is vulnerable to cyberattack. There were also news reports of America’s adversaries acquiring the capability to launch an “EMP” or Electro-Magnetic Pulse attack against the USA power grid. Other adversaries, namely Russia, have been identified as harboring ransomware hackers. There are countless scenarios in which your “sticks-and-bricks” home may be rendered uninhabitable by a cyberattack. Having your RV ready to roll is key in most of them.
We may be too casual about RV readiness
Many of us are very casual about “readiness” in terms of maintaining full potable water and fuel tanks. We always get to that when we embark on a trip. But what if your city water tap is suddenly dry? What if your electricity goes out and doesn’t come back on? What if the grocery store shelves are laid bare in a panic? That happened across the country at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. These and a lot of other questions arise when considering the effects of a large-scale infrastructure cybercrime attack.
In light of phenomena like cybercrime ransomware attacks and threats to the crucial electrical and fuel supply systems, it might be a good time to think over and make some changes in the level of preparedness that you as an RV owner should maintain.
Here is a top-level list of suggestions for getting prepared for a major disruption or disaster:
- Keep fresh water tanks filled. Cycle the tanks periodically, so that you always have at least that much fresh potable water if needed. Keep an extra set of house water filters on hand. Most of us like to travel with tanks empty to reduce weight. You can still do this, if necessary, for navigating high elevation passes or towing heavyweights, but then refill with fresh water as soon as possible. That 50-gallon fresh water tank represents four hundred pounds, but thirst and dehydration are serious concerns.
- A large hardware supply store will likely carry the light-blue food-grade five-gallon plastic cans, about the size of a gas can, for more fresh water. In an emergency, you can never have too much.
Maintain fuel levels
- Run on the top third to half of the fuel tank. Same with propane. If a situation develops that forces you to use your RV as a lifeboat, you can expect that availability of fuels will also be affected.
- It is impossible to become a true “prepper” when constrained by weight and space in even the largest motorhome. But still, a reasonable store of necessities can and should be carried. A lot of dry foods, such as pastas, flour, dehydrated milk, bread nuts and beans, can be stowed on board in very little space, and they are not heavy. Think dry foods versus heavy canned goods.
Equipment to have and keep maintained
- Emergency radio. Even if your RV is equipped with the latest stereo system and smart TV, these may not work. I carry an inexpensive emergency “crank” radio to help keep me informed in a major emergency. (We recently reviewed this one.)
- If your RV is equipped with a generator, or you opt to use a portable, always make sure it’s working and ready – full fuel and oil, and actually generating electricity.
- Keep RV engine and house batteries in good working order. Consider replacing any battery bank that will not take – or hold – a charge. You may not have shore power in an emergency.
- In conjunction with batteries, check solar systems for charging output and integrity, and keep solar panels clean for best results.
- Check air conditioner output, clean screens – just as you would at the start of a new spring/summer season.
- Make a habit of routinely checking all appliances, e.g., range, refrigerator, etc., to make sure they are in working order when needed.
Don’t forget the tires – and cash
- Keep tires properly inflated and in good, safe condition for what may be a long haul.
- If possible, stockpile some extra cash to take along “just in case.” Banking, along with the use of debit, credit and fuel cards, may not work when the going gets rough.
No one knows where or when the latest scourge, the ransomware cyberattack, may occur. Nor do we know what critical component of modern life support it may interrupt. Some peace of mind can be gained by knowing that your RV can be a major asset and tool in dealing with what may come in the way of cybercrimes. Some tech pundits have gone so far as to say that “it is not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’” this could occur.