The Need To Protect Access Points for Distant-End Users using Space-based Internet Service Providers

At the start of the Ukraine-Russia war, there was evidence that Russia was able to launch a cyberattack against a satellite internet network which took thousands of modems offline as reported by Reuters author James Pearson in the article “Russia downed satellite internet in Ukraine – Western officials” (Pearson 2022).  The service provider hacked was ViaSat, a global communications company that provides businesses, governments, and militaries with internet services (ViaSat n.d.). This event has been the one of the largest confirmed cyber-attacks from the war and could have serious impacts for other providers like SpaceX (Starlink) and Amazon (Kuiper) looking to provide services to government and military.

On the battlefield, communication is crucial to success and this war has shown how important that can be.  Whether its receiving accurate and timely updates from troops on the front lines about enemy positions and movements or communicating with foreign leaders for aid, communication has been key to Ukraine’s counteroffensive to Russia.  Satellite networks provide near instantaneous links for communications and disrupting, denying, or destroying these critical links can severely hamper warfighting efforts.  This is why its critical to protect the network access technology like modems that establish the communication links at the distant end. Modems can provide an easy attack vector for bad actors if there are unprotected modems utilizing the network. If a bad actor is able to undermine admin security settings on the network through an unprotected router, the potential for large-scale damage could be catastrophic.

Russian cyber-attackers were able to knock out modems connected to these networks to the point where they were completely inop or “bricked” and could only be exchanged (Pearson 2022).  A cyber-attack of this magnitude is not an easy fix and during a war campaign, “up time” or network availability could be the difference in a positioning the right forces in the area or ordering a timely, successful retreat if necessary.  It will be interesting to see how the other providers mention respond in the future to protect network modem technology they use.

Works Cited

Pearson, James. 2022. “Russia downed satellite internet in Ukraine -Western officials.” Reuters. May 10. Accessed February 7, 2023.

ViaSat. n.d. ViaSat – What we do. Accessed February 7, 2023.