Elon Musks warning over SpaceXs Starlink system in Ukraine: Use with caution

The world’s richest man Elon Musk has warned Ukrainians that SpaceX’s Starlink systems could run a “high” risk of being targeted by Russian forces.

This comes after Musk responded to requests from Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov by donating thousands of Starlink satellites to help bolster the country’s communication capabilities.

However, this has also created the potential for the Russian military to target ground stations and terminals through air strike attacks that could lead to civilian casualties.

“Important warning: Starlink is the only non-Russian communications system still working in some parts of Ukraine, so probability of being targeted is high. Please use with caution,” Musk shared on Twitter.

“Turn on Starlink only when needed and place antenna away as far away from people as possible.

“Place light camouflage over antenna to avoid visual detection.”

On Sunday, the tech billionaire confirmed SpaceX would launch thousands of Starlink satellites into the Earth’s orbit which would increase broadband services across Ukraine, Ukrainian.

The satellites communicate with on-ground user terminals and ground stations (which function similar to a satellite dish) which enables it to provide internet access in remote places without the need for traditional cables and wiring.

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However, uplink transmissions from the user terminal could be potentially triangulated and tracked by Russian forces, who can target the ground stations.

Adding to the potential danger, ground stations need to be placed in spaces where they have a clear view of the sky in order to connect to Starlink. This means they’re normally installed on top of existing infrastructure like tall buildings.

After Musk’s announcement on Sunday, digital security expert John Scott-Railton warned that satellite internet set ups – like SpaceX’s Starlink systems – can have deadly repercussions.

“Early in a conflict w/disrupted internet, satellite internet feels like a saviour,” he tweeted.

“But it quickly introduces very real, deadly new vulnerabilities.

“If you don’t understand them, people die needlessly until they learn and adapt. This has happened again. And again.”

Scott-Railton also said Russia has historically used signals to geolocate or track potential targets, be it strategic infrastructure or specific people.

“Russia has decades of experience hitting people by targeting their satellite communications,” he tweeted.

“In 1996, Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudayev was careful, but Russian aircraft reportedly found his satphone [satellite phones] call and killed him with a missile strike.

While he stated that satellite phones operate differently from Starlink systems, he believes the technology can still pose a risk.

“I’ve researched the role and risks of internet and satellite communications during armed conflicts … for a decade,” he continued.

“I’m writing this thread because I see a familiar mistake looming. Again.”

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