The Work-Averse Cyber Attacker Model: Theory and Evidence From Two Million Attack Signatures
36 Pages Posted: 1 Nov 2016 Last revised: 28 Jun 2017
Date Written: June 27, 2017
A common conceit is that the typical cyber attacker is assumed to be all powerful and able to exploit all possible vulnerabilities with almost equal likelihood. In this paper we present, and empirically validate, a novel and more realistic attacker model. The intuition of our model is that a mass attacker will optimally choose whether to act and weaponize a new vulnerability, or keep using existing toolkits if there are enough vulnerable users. The model predicts that mass attackers may i) exploit only one vulnerability per software version, ii) include only vulnerabilities with low attack complexity, and iii) be slow at introducing new vulnerabilities into their arsenal. We empirically test these predictions by conducting a natural experiment for data collected on attacks against more than one million real systems by Symantec’s WINE platform. Our analysis shows that mass attackers fixed costs are indeed significant and that substantial efficiency gains can be made by individuals and organizations by accounting for this effect.
Keywords: Cyber Security, Dynamic Programming, Malware Production, Risk Management
JEL Classification: C61, C9, D9, L5
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation