The U.S. intelligence chief alerts Congress to a surge in cyberattacks

The chief U.S. intelligence official cautioned Congress about a concerning surge in cyberattacks during a hearing on global threats. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines highlighted that ransomware attacks worldwide increased by as much as 74% in 2023. This trend coincides with various companies, including UnitedHealth Group, MGM Resorts, and Clorox, facing disruptions due to cyberattacks over the past year.

Haines emphasized that while the likelihood of a single attack significantly interrupting critical services remains low, the growing number of attacks raises the collective risk. She noted that U.S. entities were heavily targeted in 2023, with attacks in sectors like healthcare doubling from the previous year. The intelligence chief also highlighted a significant increase in attacks on critical infrastructure control systems but outlined preventive measures for entities to avoid being targeted.

In response to a ransomware attack on the largest U.S. fuel pipeline in 2021, Haines stressed the importance of implementing robust cybersecurity practices, such as updating passwords and patching vulnerabilities. Senator Angus King urged Haines to take further action to deter state-sponsored cyberattacks from adversaries like China and Russia, emphasizing the need for a comprehensive strategy beyond cybersecurity hygiene.

This warning comes on the heels of UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty revealing in a separate hearing that the company paid a $22 million ransom to hackers who breached its subsidiary Change Healthcare. Additionally, in 2023, cyberattacks temporarily shut down MGM’s hotel booking system and disrupted production at Clorox.

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