DecryptedTech

Wednesday06 July 2022

Elon Musk Brings Starlink Internet to Ukraine as Russian Invasion Continues


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Warfare has changed little over its centuries of existence. The tools have changes, the arenas have moved from two dimensions to 3, but the concepts and execution area basically the same. You need to not only assault and occupy ground, but you must stop organized response of whoever you are attacking or defending from. If you can successfully confuse or disrupt their attack/defense, then you gain a tactical advantage on the battlefield. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine this was very clear as the country was hit with multiple cyber attacks prior to the ground assault.

The attacks were not broad or general, they were precise and had very specific tactical and strategic effects planned. Some of the attacks were DDoS attacks that targeted command and control communications while others were data wipers intended to cripple responses and other areas of the Ukrainian infrastructure. These attacks were identified by Microsoft’s Threat Intelligence Center and were said to have happened before any physical shots were fired.

The attacks also included new malware not seen before in other Russian State cyber activity. Microsoft is calling the new malware package FoxBlade and state that they have updated Defender already to detect and counter the threat. The full details around FoxBlade are not yet known (or have been disclosed), but it seems that one purpose is to create a network of bots that can execute a DDoS against a specified target. Microsoft and other groups also warn that attacks like this are likely to escalate making the internet and other direct digital communication methods suspect at best.

Because of the risk of attack and compromise of the traditional communication infrastructure, Elon Musk has had the engineers at Starlink work very hard to extend services to Ukraine and get them terminals and other equipment that allow them to use the service. All this work was done much faster than anyone anticipated. The original timeline for extending Starlink to Ukraine was much later, but with the invasion (and after a plea from Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov) this accelerated the deployment. Musk also sent the equipment needed to properly use the service with the shipment being reported as on the ground withing 48 hours of the original promise.

Bringing Starlink into the area is not a magical fix for the impact to communications in Ukraine. However, it does help to offset and lessen the impacts. Having a new option (and one that is outside of direct control) it allows Ukraine to build a communication infrastructure that is, possibly, more difficult to compromise. It does not remove all risk of digital or physical attack but can allow Ukraine to continue to function and to continue to send out information about what is going on to the rest of the world.

Any invasion needs to be sustainable and to accomplish certain tactical and strategic goals quickly. Otherwise, the conflict can bog down and become costly and not just from a monetary perspective. With efforts like Musk’s extension of Starlink, kicking Russia out of the Swift system, and even historically neutral Sweeden agreeing to freeze Russian assets the war is becoming more and more costly to maintain, both politically and financially. It does not mean the Putin will not respond out of desperation, but the backlash to his actions in Ukraine could affect his future as the leader of Russia if others in top spots start to look for another way out of the swamp he has created.

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