Though Elon Musk has generally declined for Starlink to get involved with the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, the satellite internet company has apparently been thrown into the fray anyway. Starlink’s infrastructure was able to fend off a Russian cyberattack with incredible speed, according to Dave Tremper, the director of electronic warfare at the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
Just a day after reports of the jamming attack came to light, Starlink managed to jump in and kill it. “Starlink had slung a line of code and fixed it,” Tremper said at the C4ISRNET virtual conference. “How they did that was eye-watering to me.”
SpaceX had sent some Starlink terminals to Ukraine when the Russian invasion first began, as a measure by which to assist Ukraine in maintaining internet connectivity. Russia reportedly tried jamming up those terminals almost as soon as they arrived — but Starlink was able to remotely close up its vulnerabilities with a relatively simple system update.
Pentagon’s got something to learn — It’s obvious from Tremper’s comments (particularly the “eye-watering” one) that the Pentagon really had no idea blocking a Russian cyberattack could be quite so easy. Tremper also noted specifically that the official U.S. response to that jamming attack had a “significant timeline” to correct the necessary vulnerabilities.
Already U.S. cybersecurity officials are planning to take notes directly from Starlink’s responses. “There’s a really interesting case study to look at the agility that Starlink had in their ability to address that problem,” Tremper said. “We need to be able to have that agility.
Not all bad? — Starlink, like all of Elon Musk’s Big Idea projects, has been met with a mixture of fanfare and outright disdain. The satellite internet program makes lofty promises — high download speeds and low latency just about anywhere on the planet — but those promises come with some sizable caveats. The upfront costs of setting up a Starlink terminal are certainly not affordable, for one thing, and customers that live in close proximity to each other have found their connections to be spotty at best.
Starlink as a company is also going to struggle with profitability for the foreseeable future. SpaceX loses about $800 for every home setup it sells, and launching the company’s full satellite array is going to costs upwards of $30 billion over the next decade.
If the Pentagon is to be believed, the technology behind Starlink is significantly more advanced than even the U.S. government knew. If we get nothing else out of Starlink, perhaps our top defense officials will be able to learn a thing or two from SpaceX’s satellites.