The U.S. intelligence chief on Thursday warned Congress of a sharp increase in cyberattacks, telling lawmakers the threats remain one of the most serious international threats U.S. officials face.

“We have seen a massive increase in the number of ransomware attacks globally in the last year, which went up as much as 74% in 2023,” Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines told a Senate hearing, adding that U.S. companies are most heavily targeted, including in the health care industry.

“Although the likelihood of any single attack having a widespread effect on interrupting critical services remains low, the increased number of attacks and the actors’ willingness to access and manipulate these control systems increases the collective odds that at least one could have a more significant impact,” she added.

Haines said there are several ways for entities to prevent being targeted.

“So many of those attacks are basically possible as a consequence of just not engaging in good cybersecurity practices, not updating passwords, not, you know, doing the kind of work that needs to be done patching vulnerabilities,” Haines said.

Her testimony comes a day after UnitedHealth CEO Andrew Witty said in a Senate hearing that his company, which owns Change Healthcare, is still trying to understand why the server attacked by hackers this year lacked a basic form of security: multifactor authentication.

Change Healthcare provides technology used to submit and process billions of insurance claims a year. Hackers gained access in February and unleashed a ransomware attack that encrypted and froze large parts of the company’s system, Witty said.

The attack triggered a disruption of payment and claims processing around the country, stressing doctor’s offices and health care systems by interfering with their ability to file claims and get paid.

UnitedHealth quickly disconnected the affected systems to limit damage and paid a $22 million ransom in bitcoin, Witty said. The company is still recovering.

Solange Reyner ✉

Solange Reyner is a writer and editor for Newsmax. She has more than 15 years in the journalism industry reporting and covering news, sports and politics.


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