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US Firms Are Main Targets for Cyberattacks, Intelligence Chief Tells Senate

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told Congress Thursday (May 2) that there has been an alarming increase in cyberattacks worldwide.

Haines highlighted the growing threat of ransomware attacks, which saw a 74% rise in 2023, CNBC reported Thursday.

Speaking at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on global threats, Haines emphasized the disruptive impact that has been seen in cyberattacks on companies such as UnitedHealth GroupMGM Resorts and Clorox.

These organizations experienced disruptions to their operations, highlighting the collective risk posed by the sheer volume of attacks, Haines said, per the report.

Companies in the United States emerged as the primary targets for cyberattacks in 2023, with the healthcare sector experiencing a doubling of attacks compared to the previous year, according to the report.

Haines stressed the importance of preventive measures, urging entities to prioritize cybersecurity practices such as regular password updates and vulnerability patching, per the report.

Of particular concern is the increase in attacks on control systems for critical infrastructure. Haines emphasized the potential consequences of such attacks, citing the ransomware attack on the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S. in 2021, which led to major disruptions in gas delivery and long lines at pumps along the East Coast, the report said.

Senator Angus King urged Haines to take more proactive measures to prevent state-sponsored attacks, particularly from countries like China and Russia, according to the report. These nations have been accused of enabling cyberattacks on American targets. King emphasized the importance of holding these adversaries accountable and making it clear that their systems are also vulnerable to retaliation.

Haines’ remarks came a day after UnitedHealth Group CEO Andrew Witty testified before the Senate Finance Committee, saying the company is still investigating a security failure behind a massive cyberattack in which a ransomware gang crippled the U.S. healthcare system earlier this year.

Witty said the company is working to determine why the server that was breached by intruders had not been protected. In that case, the server that was breached was not secured by multifactor authentication.

In other cyberattacks cited by Haines, Clorox suffered a disruption of its operations and supply chain and MGM Resorts had to contend with its own breach.