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Rounds, Cortez Masto Introduce Bills to Enhance Cyber Resources for Rural and Agricultural Communities

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) introduced two bipartisan pieces of legislation to protect rural and agricultural communities from cyberattacks targeting businesses, facilities and the U.S. food supply chain. The Cybersecurity for Rural Water Systems Act would address vulnerabilities in rural water systems by providing updated cyber defenses and technical assistance. Additionally, the Food and Agriculture Industry Cybersecurity Support Act would help farmers and ranchers prevent and respond to threats, including ransomware attacks.

“Our communities are the foundation of what makes South Dakota a great place to live, work and raise a family,” said Rounds, Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Cybersecurity. “It is crucial that people living in those communities can go about their daily lives without interruption. These two pieces of bipartisan legislation would help make certain water systems have adequate cyber protection and would provide farmers and ranchers with expanded access to cybersecurity resources. I am pleased to join Senator Cortez Masto to introduce these bills that would work to protect our communities across the state.”

“As the threat of cyberattacks continues to rise, I’m working to ensure that rural Nevadans can protect their communities and businesses,” said 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 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 percent of water and wastewater systems across the U.S. have even basic levels of cyber protection. Representatives Zach Nunn (R-Iowa) and Don Davis (D-N.C.) have introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. This legislation is endorsed by the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems, National Rural Water Association and CyberSolarium 2.0. The full bill text is available HERE.

"South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems (SDARWS) wholeheartedly supports the Senate's legislative efforts to incorporate the 'Cybersecurity Circuit Rider' into the upcoming Farm Bill, recognizing the invaluable benefits it will provide to rural water systems in South Dakota,” said Kurt Pfeifle, Executive Director of South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems. “We extend our deepest gratitude to Senator Rounds for his steadfast leadership in championing the needs of South Dakota and Rural America."

“The Cybersecurity for Rural Water Systems Act will 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."

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) and Marc Veasey (D-Texas) have introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives. This legislation is endorsed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and International Fresh Produce Association. The full bill text is available HERE.

“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.”