In February 2022, SpaceX sent Starlink terminals to Ukraine and activated its satellite internet service for the country. In March 2022, it enhanced Starlink’s ability to resist jamming attempts. The US Pentagon has now praised Starlink’s ability to withstand Russian jamming and hacking attempts.
Russia had disrupted other forms of communication during its invasion of Ukraine. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responded to Ukrainian President Mykhailo Fedorov’s request for help on Twitter.
Fedorov then appealed for technological help to create a global “computer army” to help with the cyber component of his defense against Russia.
Director of Electronic Warfare for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Dave Tremper, praised the speed with which Starlink’s technical team responded to Russian attacks.
Tremper called Starlink’s rapid response to threats an “interesting case study” for responding to real-time cybersecurity threats.
“Starlink had suspended a line of code and fixed it and suddenly this [line of attack] was no longer effective,” he told the C4ISRNet military and defense conference.
He said the Pentagon could use that kind of agility in cyber defense. A considerable part of the capability of the modern US military depends on cyber technologies and space-based capabilities such as GPS.
Cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the United States could impact not only military digital and space assets, but also infrastructure in the United States. Massive ransomware attacks include the infamous Colonial Pipeline hack, which compromised the United States’ ability to distribute gasoline along the East Coast. As part of the response to the attack, the Department of Homeland Security tightened cybersecurity requirements for pipeline operators.
Ransomware too target hospitals, major chemical and IT manufacturers, food processing plants and IT infrastructure management companies.
SpaceX refused to block Russian propaganda sites like RT.com and Sputnik. The reason? Elon Musk has called himself a “free speech absolutist” – perhaps foreshadowing his current efforts to take control of Twitter, even in the face of opposition from Twitter’s board of directors.
The shadowy hacktivist group Anonymous took over by briefly bombarding Russian sites with DDoS attacks or hacking and editing the websites to warn the Russian public that the Russian government was using these sites to lie to them.
Long before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine even began, its ruling body, the State Duma, proposed fines of up to $30,000 for people using Western satellite internet services like Starlink. More recently, the European response to the invasion forced ESA to scrub plans to launch the ExoMars probe on a Soyuz rocket. The ESA said it was looking for an alternative.
The current international environment has also forced OneWeb to shift from launching some of its own internet satellites on a Soyuz to tapping into SpaceX for work. SpaceX basically said it would be happy despite previous clashes between the two competitors.
SpaceX didn’t miss a beat when it demonstrated Starlink’s ability to help in a crisis like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It even impressed the Pentagon with its ability to respond to Russian attempts to jam its satellite signals or even hack satellites.