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What Makes a Hacker? Two Cyber Experts Explain

July 26, 2017, 11:00 AM UTC

Companies are under constant assault from hackers but, for many people, the threat feels abstract and far away. That’s why Fortune produced the video above: It explains who the hackers are, and what they want.

For expertise, we turned to Nicole Friedlander, a long-time prosecutor who headed a cyber-crime unit in New York, and Andrei Barysevich, who scours the so-called “Dark Web” as an undercover private detective. In the clip, they discuss their first-hand experience with hackers.

“Hackers, for the most part, are regular people like you and me,” said Barysevich who works for a company, Recorded Future, that monitors dark corners of the Internet on behalf of corporate clients. “They have above-average computer and technical skills. Most of them are in their 20s or early 30s.”

Barysevich also gives examples of the sort of crimes he encounters while posing undercover on the Dark Web. He says he met one hacker who invites crooks to submit a list of websites, so he can produce a list of hacking vulnerabilities—all in the time it takes to get a cup of coffee.

Meanwhile, Friedlander explains why there has been a rapid growth in cyber crime, and how it is evolving.

“It used to be that cyber criminals targeted money and credit cards, but today they target intellectual property or material non-public information. For example, upcoming mergers and acquisitions,” said Friedlander, who co-ordinates the Cybersecurity Group at the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell.

The two experts also pointed to a trend in which hackers are expanding their targets beyond Fortune 500 companies, and seeking to steal from suppliers or smaller enterprises.

“The way companies need to think about data is ‘if this data has any value to company, then hackers are trying to steal it’,” said Friedlander.

To get a more detailed view of the hacking threat, check out our feature story “Hacked” from the July issue of Fortune, as well as this profile of an elite anti-hacking unit at Google.