After Russian hackers destroyed Viasat satellite ground receivers spanning Europe, SpaceX provided coverage via Starlink, its Lower Earth Orbit satellite constellation, and soon began noticing cyberattacks and software interferences. Now, a year later, the U.S. Department of Defense announced Russia is still attempting to complicate connections within the satellite constellation and others like it.
Documents were leaked by U.S. National Guard airman Ryan Teixeira, as reported by The Washington Post back in April of 2023. Ukraine has also stated it is experiencing similar security issues.
“Russia’s quest to sabotage Ukrainian forces’ internet access by targeting the Starlink satellite operations that billionaire Elon Musk has provided to Kyiv since the war’s earliest days appear to be more advanced than previously known, according to a classified U.S. intelligence report.”
This is highly concerning as satellites for communications transmit more power so more power is needed to cause interference than other types of satellites such as navigation. Each satellite constellation is made up of thousands of satellites orbiting in Lower Earth Orbit.
“Moscow has experimented for months with its Tobol electronic warfare systems in a bid to disrupt Starlink’s transmissions in Ukraine, the top-secret assessment, which has not been previously disclosed, contends…. But the intelligence finding is striking nonetheless as it appears to affirm what observers had only hypothesized previously: that a program ostensibly designed to protect the Kremlin’s satellites can be employed instead to attack those used by its adversaries.”
Professor of Privacy and Applied Cryptography at the University of the Federal Armed Forces’ Cyber Defense Research Institute, Mark Manulis, states that regular “handovers” of Lower Earth Orbit satellites “introduce delays and opens up more surface for interference.”
The U.S. Department of Defense is working with a host of other agencies, including researchers at the Secure World Foundation, to devise new security measures and defense tactics to prevent satellite interferences and jamming attempts by malicious actors. The department has been working on developing its own satellite constellation for years and has recently begun securing construction contracts for it.