Starlink stands firm against Russian cyberattacks… for now

Russia attacks satellite internet connections that help Ukrainians communicate during the conflict. For now, Starlink is holding up, but Russia is apparently picking up the pace.

According to Reuters, Russia recently orchestrated a massive cyberattack on the web satellite network that allegedly placed “tens of thousands of modems” out of order in Ukraine, but also in other countries. The most notable of these targeted Viasat, an American operator of web satellites.

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, he intended to “disrupt Ukraine’s command and control 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 that also suffered its consequences. The Russian authorities, on the other hand, continue to maintain their traditional position. They consistently and firmly reject any involvement in any cyberattack.

Starlink satellites have also been targeted, but to no avail so far. ©

Large-scale sabotage

However, according to the United States, this was a particularly aggressive attack. It not only crippled the modems in question, it put them permanently out of order. “Once these modems went offline, we couldn’t just plug them back in, restart 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 managed to cause such material damage through a cyberattack. This is obviously strategic information. Likewise, it is difficult to know precisely to what extent this sabotage has affected the Ukrainian countryside. Anyway, it turned out that he caused a “great loss of communication early in the war”, according to Ukrainian cybersecurity chief Victor Zhora.

This attack was clearly the most tangible since the beginning of the war. But he was also far from the only one. Reuters has documented several other such events. And most of them probably never filtered, again for eminently strategic reasons.

Starlink stands firm, but for how long?

And some elements suggest that the digital side of this war may yet gain traction. Anyway, this is Elon Musk’s opinion. 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 to regions lacking infrastructure.

By supplying these machines to Ukraine, he has drawn the ire of the Russian administration, which has recently openly threatened him through Dmitri Rogozin, director of the Roscosmos space agency (see our article).

The American billionaire claimed on Twitter that Starlink had “resisted Russian interference and hacking attempts so far”. On the other hand, he also announced that Russian hackers were “to intensify their efforts”. This should be seen as a continuation of 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 fighting will continue in cyberspace as long as the situation remains tense on the ground.

Leave a Comment