European satellite internet from KA-SAT has been down for a month. Suspicion falls on Russia

  • On 24 February, Russian troops entered Ukraine
  • At the same time, an attack on satellite internet connections
  • Even after a month, the network has not recovered from this event

Satellite industry sources are suggesting that Viasat’s problems across Europe are the result of electronic warfare by Russia.

The largest hacking attack since the start of the war in Ukraine has knocked out the high-speed satellite internet connection provided by the KA-SAT telecommunications satellite. The attackers cut off the internet to tens of thousands of users across Europe. Wired magazine analyses the current situation.

Since 2011, KA-SAT has been moving in synchronisation with the planet’s rotation at an altitude of 35,400 kilometres at a speed of around 11,300 km/h. However, when Russian troops entered Ukraine in the early hours of 24 February, the satellite’s internet connection was interrupted. The mysterious cyber attack targeted the ground infrastructure – not the satellite itself – and plunged tens of thousands of people into internet darkness.

After a month it still doesn’t work

Some Ukrainian defence forces were also among the users of the satellite internet, which now appears to be the most likely reason for the attack. “There were really huge losses in communications at the very beginning of the war,” Viktor Zhora, an official with Ukraine’s cyber security agency, said two weeks later.

The investigation continues

Satellite internet access is most commonly used in areas with poor cable internet coverage and is used by ordinary citizens as well as businesses and various government organisations. While the Ukrainian government has not commented on the attack, it appears that satellite communications are widely used in the country.

Ukraine has the most transparent system for tracking government spending in the world, and numerous government contracts show that the technology has been purchased by, for example, the State Special Communications Service of Ukraine and the police. Official documents show that more than 12,000 satellite internet access points were used to monitor voting during the 2012 Ukrainian elections.

Viasat has now told Reuters in an email that the disruption was a “deliberate, isolated and external cyber event”. The Viasat official said:

“The network is stabilized and we are restoring service and activating terminals as quickly as possible.”

Several US and European intelligence agencies are investigating the incident. It is the largest publicly known cyber-attack since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which has had a significant impact beyond its borders. But questions remain about the purpose of the attack and who carried it out – although experts have some suspicions.

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