APT hackers successful compromised the networks of two US airport networks in the summer of 2013 as part of a major campaign targeting dozens of others, a report from public sector security non-profit the Center for Internet Security (CIS) has revealed.

The Government-endorsed organisation that helps state bodies and organisations with cybersecurity said it first heard of an attack on four airports, which soon expanded to take in a further eight by the same Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) actor.  

After examining logs that showed malicious traffic from airports in two US states, the CIS eventually tracked the attack to a phishing campaign using attachments targeting individuals in the aviation industry, it said. The attack profile was distributed to organisations including the Federal Aviation Authority that eventually turned up traces in the email gateways of 75 airports.

Two airports received technical support after signs that they had been compromised by the campaign, the CIS said.

No indication of the attack’s origin is offered in its 2013 annual report (note: 32MB PDF download) although not long ago China would have been the number one suspect. Since then, other states in the Middle East and elsewhere have been reported to have tried similar attacks so the blame game is not as straightforward as it might once have been.

The organisation did say that the number of logs in it analysed in US State, Local, Tribal and Territorial (SLLT) bodies doubled in 2013, with the piece of malware detected in two third of cases being Trojans connected to the later disrupted ZeroAccess  botnet.

Overall, it recorded 48 significant CERT-level cybersecurity incidents in 2013, up from 21 in 2012.

“We are seeing unprecedented growth in cyber incidents and that trend will only increase as we move more of our personal and professional lives online,” said CIS president and CEO, William Pelgrin.

The CIS offer US public sector organisations alerts from its realtime Managed Security Services (MSS) platform.