Elon Musk Warns Donated Starlink Systems Could Be Targeted

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to serve up horrifying developments for the world, including Putin’s military shelling and then setting fire to the world’s largest nuclear power plant.

Amidst all this comes an “important warning” from Elon Musk to users of SpaceX’s Starlink system in that beleaguered country.

Earlier this week Elon Musk’s SpaceX activated its Starlink Internet satellites over the country, to help it continue communicating, as Russia forces seek to cut electricity, water, and Internet in Ukraine.

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Donated systems

And Elon Musk also this week responded to pleas for help from Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister, who asked SpaceX to provide Ukraine with Starlink stations.

On Monday Starlink terminals arrived in Ukraine, after Fedorov posted a photo of donated Starlink satellite internet terminals on the back of a military-looking truck.

“Starlink – here. Thanks, @elonmusk,” tweeted Fedorov.

“You are most welcome,” replied Musk.

The donated Starlink terminals look to be home satellite television dishes and can provide relatively fast internet service, by residential standards, by connecting to SpaceX’s fleet of satellites in low orbit.

But almost immediately John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab project, took to Twitter to warn the terminals could become beacons for Russian missiles.

“Re: @elonmusk’s starlink donation. Good to see. But remember: if #Putin controls the air above #Ukraine, users’ uplink transmissions become beacons … for airstrikes,” he tweeted.

“#Russia has decades of experience hitting people by targeting their satellite communications,” he added in a series of 15 tweets detailing the risks.

Musk warning

And it seems there is a very real danger that Starlink systems could be targetted by Russian forces, after Elon Musk himself warned users of the dangers.

Musk added practical advice Ukraine’s could take, including only switching the dish on when needed and placing the antenna as far away from people as possible.

He also gave advice about hiding the antenna, including the use of camouflage or painting it to blend into surroundings.

Musk also confirmed that Russia could target Starlink with a cyberattack, and he pointed out that “almost all Viasat Ukraine user terminals were rendered permanently unusable by a Russian cyberattack on day of invasion.”

Meanwhile Musk has also said that SpaceX was updating software to reduce peak power consumption, so Starlink cpuld be powered from car cigarette lighters.

“Mobile roaming enabled, so phased array antenna can maintain signal while on moving vehicle,” he said.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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