Russia attacks satellite internet connections that help Ukrainians communicate during the conflict. For now, Starlink is holding its own, but Russia is apparently stepping up the pace.
According to Reuters, Russia recently orchestrated a massive cyberattack on the web satellite network that allegedly put “tens of thousands of modems” out of service in Ukraine, but also in other countries. The most notable of these targeted Viasat, an American web satellite operator.
The attack in question was carried out in February at the time of the first Russian offensive. According to US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, it was intended to “disrupt Ukraine’s control and command capabilities during the invasion“. An attack described as “malicious and deliberate” by Liz Truss, British Foreign Secretary.
European Union officials were also outraged by the attack, which made no distinction between Ukraine, Russia’s main target, and neighboring states which also suffered its consequences. The Russian authorities, on the other hand, continue to stick to their traditional position. They consistently and firmly reject any involvement in any cyberattack.
However, according to the United States, this was a particularly aggressive attack. It not only paralyzed the modems in question, but permanently put them out of service. “After these modems went offline, we couldn’t just plug them back in, reboot them, and start using them again.”, explains Rob Joyce, director of cybersecurity at the NSA interviewed by Reuters. “They had to be sent back to the factory to be replaced”.
None of the actors involved explains precisely how Russia was able to cause such material damage through a cyberattack. This is obviously strategic information. Similarly, it is difficult to know precisely to what extent this sabotage affected the Ukrainian camp. In any case, it turned out that he caused a “big loss of communication at the very beginning of the war“, according to the Ukrainian cybersecurity officer Victor Zhora.
This attack was clearly the most tangible since the start of the war. But it was also far from the only one. Reuters has already documented several other such events. And the majority of them have probably never filtered, again for eminently strategic reasons.
Starlink holds firm, but for how long?
And some elements suggest that the digital side of this war could still gain momentum. In any case, this is the opinion of Elon Musk. As a reminder, he is one of the first concerned since he decided to supply Starlink terminals to the Ukrainian forces. Like Viasat, Starlink is a constellation of web satellites; its objective is to bring an Internet connection in regions deprived of infrastructure.
By supplying these machines to Ukraine, he therefore drew the wrath of the Russian administration, which openly threatened him recently through Dmitry Rogozin, the director of the space agency Roscosmos (see our article).
Starlink has resisted Russian cyberwar jamming & hacking attempts so far, but they’re ramping up their efforts https://t.co/w62yCsDA5w
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 11, 2022
The American billionaire claimed on Twitter that Starlink had “resisted Russian jamming and hacking attempts so far”. On the other hand, he also announced that the Russian hackers were “to step up their efforts”. Should this be seen as a follow-up to Rogozin’s warning, who said he wanted confront Musk with his responsibilities in what the Kremlin considers a interference ? Hard to say. But what is certain is that the fighting will continue to rage in cyberspace as long as the situation remains tense on the ground.