Starlink sees a growing threat as the US blames Russia for the KA-SAT hack

Military Space

During the conflict in Ukraine, Elon Musk claims that Russian hackers are stepping up their efforts to bring down SpaceX’s Starlink broadband service. “Starlink has so far defied Russian hacking and cyberwar jamming attempts,” Musk tweeted on May 10. The US had previously blamed Russia for a cyberattack on Viasat’s KA-SAT satellite internet network in late February.

“Today, the United States is disclosing publicly its assessment that Russia initiated cyber strikes against the commercial satellite communications networks in late February to damage Ukrainian command and control during the invasion, with spillover effects into other European countries,” US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken stated in a press statement on May 10.

The Russian cyberattack, according to Blinken, “blocked very small aperture terminals throughout Ukraine and across Europe,” including “thousands of terminals outside of Ukraine” that “support wind turbines and offer Internet services to ordinary consumers.” Some KA-SAT customers had to replace modems in order to stay connected to the network, which Viasat claims is now stable.

“As governments dedicated to maintaining the rules-based global order in cyberspace, the US and its friends and partners are taking steps to protect against Russia’s irresponsible activities,” the statement added. “New mechanisms have been developed by the US government to assist Ukraine in identifying cyber threats and recovering from cyber incidents. We’ve also increased our support for Ukraine’s digital connectivity, offering data terminals and satellite phones to Ukrainian government leaders, important service suppliers, and key infrastructure operators. We applaud Ukraine’s efforts to protect against and bounce back from such activity, both inside and outside of government, even as the country is physically attacked.”

KA-SAT is owned by Viasat in the United States, but it is operated in Europe by a subsidiary of Eutelsat via a network of distributors. Viasat usually sells satellite solutions directly to end clients, including the US government, which was not impacted by the outage, according to Viasat.

According to Blinken, the US government has created new mechanisms to assist Ukraine in identifying cyber threats and recovering from them. Following a public appeal by Ukraine’s vice prime minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, SpaceX has been deploying Starlink terminals to Ukraine starting shortly after the invasion on February 24.

Fedorov, who is also Ukraine’s digital transformation minister, claimed on May 2 that the country’s Starlink users’ number is approximately 150,000. Musk warned in early March that devoting resources to addressing Starlink jamming would result in “slight delays” for SpaceX’s proposed second-generation constellation and the Starship heavy launch vehicle it is constructing in Texas.

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