The Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Services (RUS) stated in a Federal Register notice that they have implemented the provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill that authorizes the agency, for the first time, to provide loans for stand-alone cybersecurity projects in rural communities.

The new cyber rule, effective Dec. 6, “addresses grid security and cybersecurity; specifically, RUS [Electric Program] may now finance loans for improvements to assist in preventing or mitigating security threats,” the agency wrote.

“It is expected that these changes will allow borrowers more flexibility, with regard to financing new grid security and cybersecurity projects and to refinancing loans, when seeking funding from RUS,” it added.

USDA’s RUS provides infrastructure and improvements to rural communities, including water and waste treatment, electric power, and telecommunications services. All these services, their website says, help to expand economic opportunities and improve the quality of life for rural residents.

The RUS carries out the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, but the 2018 Farm Bill amended several of those sections in the act, including cybersecurity and grid security improvements.

RUS is amending four sections to include provisions as specified by the Farm Bill:

  • Loans for cybersecurity and grid security improvements may now be financed;
  • Refinancing policies for loans made for these improvements and other purposes;
  • Additional definitions, including those for cybersecurity and grid security; and
  • Uses that funds may finance regarding cybersecurity and grid security improvements as well as for purposes for which funds may not be used.

“Cybersecurity and grid security investments relate to resources for prevention, protection, and restoration of computers, electronic communications systems, electronic communications services, wire and electronic communication, and physical assets,” the notice says.

It continued, “The purpose of cybersecurity and grid security investments is to mitigate the risk to critical infrastructure or the financial condition of RUS’s borrowers by physical means or cyber measures from intrusions, attacks, or the effects of natural or manmade disasters.”

The agency offers loans to cooperatives, corporations, states, territories, subdivisions, municipalities, utility districts, and non-profit organizations.

Prior to the Farm Bill, RUS only approved financing for cybersecurity and grid security infrastructure investment as eligible purposes when incorporated in larger infrastructure projects. With the changes, these purposes can be combined as a single project specifically designed for cybersecurity and grid security purposes.

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