What industry is most affected by ransomware?

Ransomware is a form of malicious software that encrypts a victim’s files and demands payment to restore access. It has become an increasingly common and disruptive threat in recent years. But ransomware does not impact all industries equally. Some sectors are more frequently targeted and damaged by ransomware campaigns than others.


The healthcare industry is arguably the most affected by ransomware attacks. Medical facilities are an attractive target for cyber criminals because access to patient records and care systems is time-sensitive. Hospitals may be more likely to pay ransoms quickly if operations are disrupted by an attack, and they are also obligated to protect sensitive patient data.

Several high-profile ransomware incidents have crippled hospital systems in recent years. In 2021 alone, there were at least 45 publicly reported attacks against healthcare providers in the United States. Other notable attacks include the WannaCry outbreak of 2017 which impacted over a third of NHS hospitals in the UK, forcing the cancellation of thousands of appointments and surgeries. The average ransom paid by healthcare organizations was over $4 million in 2020, the highest of any industry.

Why Is Healthcare So Affected?

There are a few key reasons why healthcare is heavily targeted:

  • Hospitals store large amounts of highly sensitive patient data that is valuable to attackers.
  • Disrupting operations can be life-threatening, making hospitals willing to pay.
  • Many medical devices and systems run outdated software with security flaws.
  • Smaller facilities may lack resources for cybersecurity professionals and tools.


Government networks also face frequent ransomware attacks. High-profile incidents in recent years include attacks in 2021 that impacted systems for the DC Police department and city government. In 2019, multiple cities in Florida as well as Baltimore, Maryland and parts of San Antonio, Texas were hit by ransomware.

As with healthcare, disrupting government operations and accessing sensitive data can give attackers leverage to demand substantial ransoms. But government agencies face additional challenges in mitigating risk:

  • Outdated legacy IT infrastructure and lack of modernization in some departments.
  • Decentralization across many divisions makes consistent security practices difficult.
  • Threat actors target government networks for political motives beyond just financial gain.


Ransomware has also extensively targeted the education sector. Researchers identified over 60 ransomware attacks against US schools and colleges in 2021. Examples include the University of California San Francisco paying $1.4 million and the University of Utah paying $457,000 in separate incidents. K-12 schools are frequent targets as well.

As with healthcare, schools and universities maintain sensitive personal data on students and staff that can be weaponized. Educational institutions also often operate complex networks across multiple physical locations and lack adequate security controls.


Banks and financial services have also dealt with ransomware, albeit less frequently than health, government, and education. The “conti” ransomware gang claimed attacks on two US banks in 2021. Travelex, a major foreign currency exchange, was brought down for weeks by ransomware in 2020.

Financial regulators prioritize cybersecurity, and banks invest heavily in measures to protect consumer data and transactions from disruption. However, any successful attack can still be highly damaging to public trust and reputation. Criminal groups continue targeting perceived vulnerabilities at financial firms.

Critical Infrastructure

Energy, transportation, and other critical infrastructure sectors have been affected as well, albeit to a lesser extent so far than industries dealing with more sensitive data. The Colonial Pipeline attack in 2021 demonstrating how a major fuel network could be disrupted prompted concerns about vulnerabilities in core systems.

These sectors may see more ransomware activity as threat actors pivot from “big game hunting” larger organizations to expansive critical infrastructure networks. The potentially systemic impacts mean any major attack could be widely disruptive.

Other Notable Sectors

While health, government, education, finance, and critical infrastructure see the most ransomware impact currently, other industries face growing risk as well:

  • Retail: Ransomware could expose customer financial data, interrupt e-commerce, etc.
  • Travel: Airlines, hotels, and tourism sectors maintain reservations/customer data.
  • Media: News, broadcasting, and entertainment firms hold sensitive content and data.
  • Manufacturing: Disrupting assembly lines and production systems can have ripple effects across supply chains.

Ransomware Trends By Industry

Examining ransomware through the lens of different industries reveals key trends in tactics and impact:


  • Smaller hospitals and clinics hit frequently due to weaker security.
  • Attacks often cripple crucial systems like MRIs and biomedical devices.
  • Stolen medical records sold on dark web black markets.
  • Average ransom payment over $4 million.


  • Cities large and small impacted, limiting citizen services.
  • Law enforcement operations disrupted by police department attacks.
  • Public sector often uses outdated technology and infrastructure.
  • Geopolitical motives sometimes contribute to attacks.


  • K-12 schools see “big game hunting” attacks from major gangs.
  • Universities pay large ransoms, the average being $447,000.
  • Lost research threatens years of academic work.
  • Students and staff personal data frequently compromised.


  • Major banks invest heavily in cybersecurity, limiting incidents.
  • Attacks target perceived vulnerabilities at smaller firms.
  • Disrupting transactions erodes consumer confidence.
  • Extortion demand amounts lower than other sectors.

Critical Infrastructure

  • Energy, fuel, water, and other core service attacks not yet widespread.
  • Potential for systemic impacts across interconnected networks.
  • Industrial control systems often rely on legacy technology.
  • Few reported incidents so far relative to other sectors.

Factors In Ransomware Susceptibility

While healthcare organizations, government agencies, schools, and critical infrastructure bear the brunt of impact currently, ransomware risks are not intrinsic to any industry. Many complex factors contribute to vulnerability:

  • Legacy technology infrastructure: Outdated software/OSes with security flaws.
  • Decentralized networks: Remote offices, clinics, satellite sites.
  • Funding limitations: Gaps in cybersecurity tools and staffing.
  • Valuable data: Personally identifiable information, intellectual property.
  • Urgent operations: Services where disruption prompts payment.
  • Weak backups: Inability to recover encrypted systems.

So while some sectors like healthcare and education are disproportionately targeted now, proactive ransomware resilience requires looking beyond just industry to assess and address organizational vulnerabilities.

Ransomware Mitigation Strategies

Organizations across every industry can take concrete steps to improve ransomware resilience including:

  • Installing software patches and updates promptly
  • Enforcing strong password policies
  • Deploying anti-malware and anti-ransomware tools
  • Monitoring networks for threats
  • Developing incident response plans
  • Isolating backups and critical systems
  • Deploying multi-factor authentication
  • Conducting staff phishing training

More organizations are also turning to cyber insurance to help manage ransomware risks. But while carriers may cover extortion payments, organizations still suffer significant business disruption. Ultimately, eliminating ransomware threats requires institutions across every sector to recognize the risk and dedicate resources to security defenses.

The Most Affected Sectors

In summary, ransomware poses risks to organizations across industries. But based on current attack trends and impact, the sectors most affected by ransomware are:

  1. Healthcare
  2. Government
  3. Education
  4. Finance
  5. Critical infrastructure

Healthcare is arguably the most impacted industry based on frequency of attacks, sensitivity of disrupted systems and data, and ransom amounts paid. Government agencies also face constant barrage of ransomware attacks from financially motivated cyber criminals as well as state actors. Universities, schools, and libraries similarly have struggled to contain ransomware, often lacking resources for security measures. Financial services, energy, fuel networks, and other critical infrastructure remain lucrative targets as well, albeit less frequently attacked to date than the aforementioned sectors.

However, digital extortion threats are fundamentally not unique to any specific industry. Ransomware resilience ultimately depends on comprehensive organizational preparedness and willingness to invest in cyber defenses. While health, government, academia, finance, and core infrastructure bear the most ransomware impact currently, strengthening protection across enterprises of all types is crucial to counteracting the escalating global ransomware epidemic.


Ransomware is one of the most severe cyber threats facing organizations today. Based on frequency and impact of attacks, the healthcare sector is most afflicted by ransomware. Medical facilities of all types and sizes struggle to defend against network intrusions, data theft, and service disruption. Governments are also prime targets, with cities across the country debilitated by digital extortion. Schools and universities similarly cannot keep pace with rapidly evolving ransomware tactics and malware. Financial services, energy companies, transportation networks, and other critical infrastructure remain at risk as well from targeted attacks.

While some industries are clearly more affected than others currently, ransomware is not an intrinsic risk of any specific sector. Vulnerabilities to ransomware ultimately stem from insufficient cybersecurity resources and preparedness. Organizations across industries have much to gain from learning from security incidents in other sectors to strategically assess and shore up their own defenses. Proactively addressing technical, staffing, and budget gaps makes institutions far more resilient regardless of the industry in which they operate.