Is SpaceX better at parrying Russian cyberattacks than the Pentagon?
A Pentagon official revealed their amazement at the speed with which SpaceX recently countered a Russian jamming attack on its Starlink service over Ukraine, a report from Business Insider reveals.
Speaking at the C4ISRNET Conference on Wednesday, April 20, Dave Tremper, director of electronic warfare for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, explained how Starlink's operators fought off the attack faster than he believes the U.S. military would have been able to.
Shortly after the start of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk responded to a request from Ukraine's vice prime minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, to provide access to Starlink internet in Ukraine amid Russia's destruction of communications infrastructure.
Starlink, at least so far, has resisted all hacking & jamming attempts— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 25, 2022
On March 26, Musk tweeted that Starlink had so far "resisted all hacking and jamming attempts." The comment came after reports that Russia had coordinated cyberattacks on thousands of satellite modems to coincide with the start of its invasion.
Tremper: U.S. military could learn from SpaceX agility
Now, Tremper's comments provide new insight into Russia's attempts at jamming the satellite internet service in Ukraine. The Pentagon official said that only a day after the Russian jamming attack, "Starlink had slung a line of code and fixed it."
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"How they did that was eye-watering to me," Tremper said. The top Pentagon official also added that the U.S. military usually required a "significant timeline to make those types of corrections," and that "there's a really interesting case study to look at the agility that Starlink had in their ability to address that problem. In the way that Starlink was able to upgrade when a threat showed up, we need to be able to have that agility."
SpaceX has sent more than 2,000 Starlink satellites into orbit. The private space company has been praised for providing communications services to civilians in war-torn Ukraine, though it has also faced criticism for the number of satellites it aims to send to orbit, due to the problem of space debris and interference with astronomical observations.
SpaceX's chief partner, NASA, recently warned that the Starlink mega constellation — which could grow to as many as 30,000 satellites — could reduce the U.S. space agency's capacity for detecting potentially hazardous asteroids on a collision course with Earth.
Still, the satellite internet service has proved successful in helping civilians in Ukraine, with reports that it has helped coordinate the evacuation of child cancer patients, allowing them to continue to receive treatment. Musk did recently warn, however, that users should be cautious when accessing the service, as it could make them a target for Russian forces who may be able to pinpoint their location by tracking satellite data.