In February 2022, SpaceX sent Starlink terminals to Ukraine and activated its satellite Internet service for the country. In March 2022, it beefed up Starlink’s ability to resist jamming attempts. Now the U.S. Pentagon has praised Starlink’s ability to resist Russia’s 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 later put out a call for technological help to create a worldwide “IT Army” to help with the cyber component of its defense against Russia.
Office of the Secretary of Defense Director of Electronic Warfare Dave Tremper praised the speed at which Starlink’s tech team responded to Russia’s attacks.
Tremper called Starlink’s fast response to threats an “interesting case study” in responding to cybersecurity threats in real-time.
“Starlink had slung a line of code and had fixed it and suddenly that [line of attack] was not effective anymore,” he said at the C4ISRNet defense and military conference.
He said the Pentagon could use that kind of agility in cyber defense. A considerable amount of the modern U.S. military’s capacity depends on cyber technologies and space-based capabilities like GPS.
Cybersecurity vulnerabilities in the United States could impact not only the military’s digital and space-based 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 also targeted hospitals, major chemical and computer manufacturers, food processing plants, and IT infrastructure management firms.
SpaceX did refuse to block Russian propaganda sites like RT.com and Sputnik. The reason? Elon Musk referred to himself as a “free speech absolutist” – possibly foreshadowing his current efforts to take over Twitter even in the face of opposition from Twitter’s board of directors.
The shadowy hacktivist group Anonymous picked up the slack by briefly nuking Russian sites with DDoS attacks or hacking them and editing the websites to warn Russian audiences that the Russian government was using those sites to lie to them.
Long before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine even started, its ruling body, the Duma, proposed a fine of up to $30,000 for individuals using Western satellite Internet services like Starlink. More recently, the European response to the invasion forced the 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 also forced OneWeb to switch from launching some of its own Internet satellites on a Soyuz to tapping SpaceX for the job. SpaceX essentially said it would be happy to despite previous scraps between the two competitors.
SpaceX didn’t miss a beat when demonstrating 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 satellites’ signals or even hack the satellites.