Starlink: fighting for Ukraine on the cyber front
Starlink has been helping tens of thousands of Ukrainian citizens stay connected to the Internet during what political scientists call “the biggest war in Europe since World War Two.”
Starlink is a satellite Internet constellation of over 2,000 satellites in low Earth orbit operated by SpaceX. It provides Internet for people in remote locations where cell towers don’t reach.
In Ukraine, the technology is crucial, with over 150,000 daily users relying on the service to stay online during the war. Since the beginning of the invasion, the Starlink app climbed to the top place among all downloads in Ukraine.
Thousands of Starlink terminals were reportedly delivered to Ukraine after the country’s Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov expressed concerns that Russia’s aggression may disrupt the country’s Internet connection.
However, there is more to Starlink than robust Internet services. The Pentagon has claimed that SpaceX is capable of countering Russian cyberattacks on Ukraine’s networks quicker than the US military. Evidently, in March, Musk said they had “resisted all hacking and jamming attempts,” shifting the attention to focusing on counter measures.
As such, only a day after news of Russia’s jamming attempts broke, SpaceX managed to update its network with new code to address the issue. Dave Tremper, Director of Electronic Warfare for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, praised Starlink for how quickly it can upgrade against threats.
"There's a really interesting case study to look at the agility that Starlink has in their ability to tackle that problem," Tremper commented.
Unsurprisingly, not everyone is happy with Starlink’s progress in Ukraine. In a tweet supposedly from Dmitry Rogozin’s message to Russian media, Director General of Russia’s Roscosmos space agency accuses Musk (who runs SpaceX) of aiding “fascist forces in Ukraine with military communication equipment” that was “delivered by Pentagon.”
Earlier in March, Musk warned that it might be necessary to camouflage the antennas required to access Starlink as they are very distinctive.
‘Starlink is the only non-Russian communications system still working in some parts of Ukraine, so probability of being targeted is high. Please use with caution,’ Musk tweeted.
Despite the visible progress, it’s not always possible to counter Russia’s cyber aggression. Musk has addressed the recent cyberattack on ViaSat's satellite KA-SAT network meant "to disrupt Ukrainian command and control during the invasion…[which] actions had spillover impacts into other European countries." According to Musk, despite Starlink’s efforts, Russian hackers are ramping up their efforts.
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