Britain, U.S. warn of satellite communications risks after Ukraine hack

By James Pearson

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain and the United States have warned organisations of the risks associated with using satellite communications following a cyberattack on satellite internet modems as Russia invaded Ukraine.

Western intelligence agencies have been investigating the attack which disrupted broadband satellite internet access provided by U.S. telecommunications firm Viasat, Reuters reported last week.

“It’s certainly something we’re investigating quite actively – more than quite actually,” a British official told reporters on Friday. “We’ve been talking extensively to UK organisations to give them a sense of how we can advise them on that point.”

The unidentified hackers disabled tens of thousands of modems that communicate with Viasat Inc’s KA-SAT satellite, which supplies internet to some customers in Europe, including in Ukraine.

Late on Thursday, the U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a joint statement which warned of the “possible threats to U.S. and international satellite communication (SATCOM) networks” in the wake of the attack.

SATCOM network providers and customers should increase their security and report any malicious activity given the “current geopolitical situation”, the statement said.

French government cybersecurity organisation ANSSI and Ukrainian intelligence are assessing whether the remote sabotage was the work of Russian-state backed hackers preparing the battlefield by attempting to sever communications, Reuters reported.

Russian troops have taken heavy losses while blasting residential areas in Ukraine to rubble, sending more than 3 million refugees fleeing. Moscow denies it is targeting civilians in what it calls a “special operation” to disarm its neighbour.

The digital blitz on the satellite service began on Feb. 24 between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., the day Russian forces launched their invasion.

“Were it to be ultimately attributed to Russia, it would very much fit within what we expect them to do, which is use their cyber capabilities to support, ultimately, their military campaign,” the British official said.

(E£iting by Nick Macfie)