Sen. Cotton wants to crack down on cybersecurity threats to US agriculture

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FIRST ON FOX: Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., will introduce a bill Thursday to strengthen cybersecurity defenses to counter cyberattacks against critical food structure sectors. 

The legislation, called the Farm and Food Cybersecurity Act, would enhance security for both government and private entities against cyber threats.

‘America’s adversaries are seeking to gain any advantage they can against us – including targeting critical industries like agriculture,’ Cotton said in a statement. ‘Congress must work with the Department of Agriculture to identify and defeat these cybersecurity vulnerabilities.’

He added, ‘This legislation will ensure we are prepared to protect the supply chains our farmers and all Americans rely on.’ 

If passed, the bill mandates biennial cybersecurity studies on agriculture and food sectors and reports on findings to Congress. It also requires an annual cross-sector crisis simulation for food-related cyber emergencies, involving various government agencies.

Co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said in a statement that protecting farms and food security against cyberattacks ‘is a vital component of our national security.’ 

The bill already has support from several agricultural groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, North American Millers Association, National Grain and Feed Association, National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, National Pork Producers Council, USA Rice and Agricultural Retailers Association. 

Republican Rep. Brad Finstad of Minnesota and Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan will introduce companion legislation in the House.

This month, the Aliquippa water authority in western Pennsylvania became a victim of an international cyberattack, along with other U.S. water utilities, by what federal authorities said were Iranian-backed hackers targeting a piece of equipment specifically because it was Israeli-made.

The danger, officials said, is hackers gaining control of automated equipment to shut down pumps that supply drinking water or contaminate drinking water by reprogramming automated chemical treatments. Besides Iran, other potentially hostile geopolitical rivals, including China, are viewed by U.S. officials as a threat.

Last year, agricultural giant Dole disclosed to federal regulators the impact of a ransomware attack, a type of cuber attack that uses malware to lock a victim’s information until a ransom payment is made, which cost the company $10.5 million. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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