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Elon Musk says Russia is ramping up cyberattacks on SpaceX's Starlink systems in Ukraine

SpaceX's Starlink internet service consists of a ground terminal (right) and antenna for high-speed satellite internet.
SpaceX's Starlink internet service consists of a ground terminal (right) and antenna for high-speed satellite internet. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX's Starlink internet communications systems in Ukraine are experiencing increasing cyberattack from Russia, the company's founder Elon Musk said this week.

SpaceX, with the help of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has sent at least 5,000 Starlink terminals to the country, whose cities have been besieged by Russian forces since February. 

But Musk says it's been a difficult environment. "Starlink has resisted Russian cyberwar jamming & hacking attempts so far, but they're ramping up their efforts," he wrote (opens in new tab) on Twitter Tuesday (May 10).

According to a Reuters report (opens in new tab), which Musk also shared, a coalition of countries have said that Russia backed a cyberattack against satellite internet systems that ultimately pulled tens of thousands of modems offline shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine Feb. 24.

Related: Russia's invasion of Ukraine as seen in satellite photos

Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine's vice prime minister and the country's minister of digital transformation, shared this photo on Feb. 28, 2022 of Starlink internet terminals arrived in Ukraine after Russia invaded. (Image credit: Mykhailo Fedorov/Twitter)

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said the attack against Viasat's KA-SAT network  was "deliberate and malicious," Reuters stated (opens in new tab), and the Council of the European Union said the hack caused "indiscriminate communication outages" in Ukraine and several member states. The attacks were confirmed by the United States, Canada and Estonia, Reuters added.

"After those modems were knocked offline, it wasn't like you unplug them and plug them back in and reboot and they come back," the U.S. National Security Agency's Director of Cybersecurity Rob Joyce told Reuters (opens in new tab). "They were down and down hard; they had to go back to the factory to be swapped out."

Reuters added that while the full impact of KA-SAT's outage has not been disclosed, the entity does provide connectivity to Ukrainian military and police units. This may imply an operational impact for first responders. 

As for Starlink, USAID said in April that SpaceX's terminals will provide Ukraine with "unlimited, unthrottled data connectivity," even if fiber optic or cellular communication infrastructure connections are severed. 

Space reporter Joey Roulette of Reuters tweeted (opens in new tab) that most of the 5,000 terminals and associated Internet service — 3,667, to be exact — were donated directly by SpaceX at a cost of "roughly $10 million." USAID purchased the remaining 1,333 terminals. 

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she also tackles topics like diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, three space shuttle missions in Florida, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Her latest book, Leadership Moments from NASA, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.