MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Criminals are hacking into local governments and businesses, holding data hostage in exchange for money, according to software company Emsisoft.

Emsisoft says global ransomware attacks cost businesses and governments tens of billions of dollars last year.

New Orleans is still trying to recover from a ransomware hack in December. Hackers locked up computers at city hall, the police department and the courts. But the Big Easy is far from alone.

A report from Emsisoft finds ransomware attacks were up 41% last year. That included 113 state and municipal governments, 764 healthcare providers, and 89 universities, colleges and school districts, according to the report.

Criminals also targeted hospitals and small businesses, often demanding money to unlock computer networks.

“It takes just one person clicking the wrong link to destroy all of the data inside your organization,” said Dan Patterson, a senior producer at CNET.

He said hospitals, schools, and local governments are targeted because cyber criminals go where the money is.

Many institutions and organizations agreed to pay the ransom to free their computer systems. Sometimes it’s just a few hundred dollars, but often it’s much more.

The cyber security company Coveware says the average payout was more than $84,000.

And when local businesses get hacked, your personal information may be exposed.

While these attacks are tough to prevent, there are some precautions you can take.

“One of the things you can do to protect your personal information is to lock down your credit, another thing that you can do is make sure that you limit the amount of information that you share outwardly,” Patterson says.

Those extra steps can help safeguard your identity and finances as cyber criminals step up ransomware attacks.

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