Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) introduced new legislation to protect rural and agricultural communities from cyberattacks targeting their businesses, facilities, and the U.S. food supply chains. The Food and Agriculture Industry Cybersecurity Support Act would help farmers and ranchers prevent and respond to threats, including ransomware attacks, and the Cybersecurity for Rural Water Systems Act would address vulnerabilities in rural water systems by providing updated cyber defenses and technical assistance.
“As the threat of cyberattacks continues to rise, I’m working to ensure that that rural Nevadans can protect their communities and businesses,” said Senator Cortez Masto. “My bipartisan bills will provide rural water systems, farmers, and ranchers with necessary resources to fend off cyber criminals trying to hack into the technology that supports our food and water supply. I will continue fighting to support the rural Nevada businesses and families who are so essential to our state.”
The Food and Agriculture Industry Cybersecurity Support Act would create a specialized hub within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to help agricultural producers secure technology, equipment, and hardware to protect their operations. It would also create a hotline for industry-specific advice and best practices to adhere to cybersecurity issues. Representatives August Pfluger (R-Texas-11) and Marc Veasey (D-Texas-33) have introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. This legislation is endorsed by the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and International Fresh Produce Association. The bill text is available here.
“As the use of technology continues to increase within agriculture, so do cybersecurity threats and other vulnerabilities,” said Martin Paris, Executive Director of The Nevada Cattlemen’s Association. “At present time, the U.S. food and agriculture sector lacks the resources and expertise to protect itself from a wide range of cyber threats. The Nevada Cattlemen’s Association appreciates Senator Cortez Masto leading efforts to ensure our nation’s food supply chain isn’t vulnerable to threats and Nevada’s ranchers and farmers have the resources to protect their livelihoods.”
“Our national security includes food security, which is why it is so critical for federal authorities to strengthen protections against cyber-attacks in the agricultural sector,”said National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Vice President of Government Affairs Ethan Lane. “As cell phones and tablets become even more critical tools in the saddle bag, Congress is wise to strengthen our digital defenses now to prevent a future cyber-attack from endangering our nation’s food supply.”
The Cybersecurity for Rural Water Systems Act would update and expand the Circuit Rider Program to assess the cybersecurity of small water and wastewater utilities, develop protocols to enhance cyber defenses, and provide assistance to improve cyber protections. Currently, only 20% of water and wastewater systems across the U.S. have even basic levels of cyber protection. Congressmen Don Davis (D-N.C.-01) and Zach Nunn (R-Iowa-03) have introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. This legislation is endorsed by the National Rural Water Association and CyberSolarium 2.0. The bill text is available here.
“TheCybersecurity for Rural Water Systems Actwill directly assist rural utilities that lack the financial resources and in-house expertise to defend themselves from cyber threats,”said National Rural Water Association CEO Matthew Holmes. “The bill will provide a cadre of ‘Circuit Rider’ cybersecurity specialists to help rural water systems protect the public health of the residents they serve. NRWA is grateful for Senators Cortez Masto and Rounds’ leadership on this very important legislation, which will result in a more resilient, prepared, and secure water sector.”
“This is much needed legislation that seeks to address a serious vulnerability in the cybersecurity of our rural water utilities,” said Mark Montgomery, Executive Director of CyberSolarium 2.0. “The Cyberspace Solarium Commission always felt that these cybersecurity circuit riders offer the opportunity to help rural utilities both prevent and prepare for cyber attacks and rapidly respond if they occur.”
Senator Cortez Masto is a strong supporter of Nevada’s rural and agricultural communities and led the fight to protect family farms and ranches from an unfair tax hike. She has introduced bipartisan legislation to put rural Western communities on an equal footing when it comes to applying for critical infrastructure grants to improve school buildings, promote small businesses, and bolster health care services. The Senator has also made sure that rural Nevada communities are included in the Rural Partners Network to help them better access federal funds and services, and supported programs to prompt better interagency coordination to assist rural communities access the resources they need.