The majority of cyber attackers are motivated by money, but make less than US$15,000 per successful attack, according to a survey of hackers in the U.S., U.K. and Germany released yesterday by the Ponemon Institute.
The hackers, who were promised anonymity, netted, on average, less than $29,000 a year.
"In the more established countries, that is not a lot of money," said Scott Simkin, senior threat intelligence manager at Palo Alto Networks, which sponsored the study. "They're making a quarter of what a cybersecurity professional makes."
Hollywood may be promising them big payouts, he added, but the easy bucks just aren't there.
The average attacker conducts eight attacks per year, only 42 of which are successful. In addition, only 59 percent of the successful attacks result in any financial payout.
Attackers also spend an average of 70 hours per attack going up against "typical" IT security infrastructure, 147 hours battling "excellent" IT security infrastructure and give up completely after 209 hours.
Survey respondents also said that the time and resources it takes to conduct such an attack have decreased over time, and that automated tools make it easier for them to conduct successful attacks.
The majority of attackers have increased their use of hacker tools by 18 percent, and 64 percent say that the tools are "highly effective."
On average, attackers spend $1,367 a year on these tools.
Other reasons that the time spent to plan and execute an attack have decreased include the increased number of known exploits and vulnerabilities, cited by 67 percent of respondents, and, for 52 percent, improved skills as a hacker.
Improved collaboration within the hacking community was only cited by 22 percent, and improved intelligence about targeted organizations was cited by 20 percent.
Of most interest to the defenders, the hackers prefer easy targets to harder ones, and will call off an attack if it is taking too long to get through.
According to the survey, 13 percent quit after a delay of five hours. A delay of 10 hours causes 24 percent to quit, a delay of 20 hours causes 36 to quit, and a majority of 60 percent will give up if an attack takes 40 additional hours.
"If you can delay them by two days, you can deter 60 percent of attacks," Simkin said. "Make it harder, make it take more time, and make it cost more money."
In general, when choosing targets, hackers will go after the least-defended companies first.
According to the survey, 72 percent said they won't waste time on an attack that doesn't hold the promise of quick and high-value information, and 69 percent will quit if they see that the target has a strong defense.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.