‘Distinctive’ SpaceX Starlink dish high-risk for Ukrainians: experts

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According to cybersecurity experts, anyone who uses SpaceX’s satellite internet network, Starlink, in Ukraine amid the ongoing conflict with Russia is putting themselves and their families in danger. Elon Musk handed Starlink kits to Ukraine on February 26 after the country’s deputy prime minister, Mykhailo Fedorov, sought assistance from the billionaire tech entrepreneur. Three further batches of terminals have been delivered since then.

As a result of the danger of Russian forces in Ukraine, users of SpaceX’s Starlink system have expressed worries about their safety, prompting Elon Musk to urge Starlink users in Ukraine to exercise care while using the system. As John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto’s Munk School, said to Insider: “There are several elements of Starlink that distinguish it from prior generations of satellite communications technology used in wars.”

Starlink terminals have a ‘distinctive aesthetic appearance.’ Musk has encouraged users to employ “light camouflage” to conceal the Starlink terminal — the dish that links to the satellites — in order to prevent being identified by the satellites. Furthermore, he advised users to position the antenna as far away from people as possible and to turn the device on “only when necessary.”

According to experts, this guidance is insufficient to safeguard consumers. Scott-Railton said that the most serious risk is that Starlink terminals are “visually distinctive,” and that Russian forces may see their users as targets as a result. According to Nicholas Weaver, a professor in computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, Starlink terminals cannot be hidden since they must have an unobstructed view of the sky in order to connect to satellites, according to Insider.

The author describes Elon Musk as “at core” a “fast-talking, third-rate car salesperson,” according to Weaver. The fact that a Starlink dish cannot be visibly hidden owing to its nature is well known to him, yet he nonetheless managed to tweet out that this is what people in Ukraine should be doing. Starlink is considered to be a ‘high-profile’ company.

In less than a year after its inception in October 2020, Starlink’s user base has expanded to more than 145,000 members in 25 countries, according to data collected at the beginning of this year. “For obvious reasons, the larger the public awareness of communications technology and the more people who speak about it, the greater the danger of employing it in a conflict scenario,” Scott-Railton said.

Even though Scott-Railton expressed his delight that Musk is addressing the hazards, he stressed that consumers must be aware of the risks and exercise caution while interacting with the technology. “The rule should be that if Russia doesn’t care, Starlink should be alright,” Weaver said. Assuming that Russia is concerned, a Starlink base station should be placed as far away from sensitive infrastructure as possible.” Radio signals may be traced back to their source.

Radio signals are emitted by Starlink, just like any other kind of communication equipment – but they can be tracked down, according to Scott-Railton. “Any contemporary military can normally either triangulate such signals in order to target them with artillery or airstrikes or utilize a missile that hones in on such signals,” said Jason Healey, a senior research fellow at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).

It was explained by Weaver how simple it would be for Russia to identify signals from Starlink dishes. Russia should be able to detect and identify the transmitter with relative ease if they cared and flew a proper electronic warfare aircraft over the country, he claimed. “The plane is able to practically point out where on the ground the Starlink dish is,” he said.

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