Since the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia on February 24, Elon Musk has established himself as an important supporter of Ukraine.
Besides words, the billionaire has also taken various actions to help Ukraine and Ukrainians even though he is aware that he does not hold the key to ending this war. Musk sent multiple shipments of Starlink terminals — the satellite internet service offered by his space company SpaceX — to Ukraine.
These terminals allow remote areas, towns, and villages destroyed by Russian bombing and Ukrainians in general to stay connected to the world. They essentially allow the country whose communications infrastructure was destroyed by the Russian army to continue to have access to a fast, secure and independent internet.
This is very important because in an armed conflict each side tries to make its own propaganda to gain the sympathy of the world. Everything must therefore be done to prevent one side from winning the communication war. By sending Starlink terminals to Ukraine, Musk allows ordinary Ukrainians to continue to tell the inside story of their daily lives and avoid Moscow dictating and shaping the narrative.
Russia Uses Massive Cyberattacks in Ukraine
The billionaire also quietly sent some Tesla Powerwalls, an integrated battery system that stores solar energy, to Ukraine to help the war-torn country.
But in addition to the war on the ground, Russia has engaged in another confrontation and this one concerns cyberattacks, in particular against communication infrastructures.
U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded that Russian military spy hackers were behind a cyberattack on a satellite broadband service that disrupted Ukraine’s military communications at the start of the war last month, according to The Washington Post.
Last month, before the invasion, Russian government hackers had probably broadly penetrated Ukrainian military, energy and other critical computer networks to collect intelligence and position themselves to potentially disrupt the systems.
The recent outages, which began Feb. 24 — the day Russia invaded Ukraine — resulted from the hack of satellite modems belonging to tens of thousands of people in Ukraine and other countries in Europe, an official with the U.S. firm Viasat, headquartered in Carlsbad, Calif, told The Post. Agencies affected included civilians as well as Ukraine’s military and other government agencies, Ukrainian officials told the newspaper.
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The Viasat official told the Post that distributors would be shipped new modems to be provided to those affected by the cyberattack.
These cyberattacks raise questions about the vulnerability of other broadband services with poorly-maintained firmware on their customer network infrastructure.
Starlink Terminals Not Hacked by Russians Yet
But despite their power, these Russian cyberattacks have yet to affect Starlink internet stations which help Ukrainians stay in touch with the world, Musk just said.
“Starlink, at least so far, has resisted all hacking & jamming attempts,” Musk stated on Twitter on March 25.
This statement by Musk is something of a relief for Ukraine and Ukrainians as it suggests that Russia does not control all communications to and from Ukraine. This is an important point because this conflict which has already caused hundreds of deaths and the displacement of millions of others is here to stay. No doubt the communication war will also intensify.
Starlink technology is being used by civilians in areas under attack that have lost Internet service, and by government officials.
“A new batch of Starlink stations!” Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov posted on Twitter on March 18, with a photo showing the hardware. “While Russia is blocking access to the Internet, Ukraine is becoming more open to the entire world. Ukraine is the truth. The truth always wins. Thank you, @elonmusk, the Government of Poland, and Orlen.”
American President Joe Biden said this week that the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and the resulting sanctions on aggressor Russia, may lead to a rash of cybersecurity breaches unleashed by the Kremlin and other quasi-official sources in Russia.
Biden said that his administration has “evolving intelligence” that cyber warfare will be part of Russia’s striking back against American sanctions.
“It’s part of Russia’s playbook. Today, my Administration is reiterating those warnings based on evolving intelligence that the Russian Government is exploring options for potential cyberattack,” Biden said.