Ukraine Offers SpaceX an ‘Algorithm’ to Stop Russian Use of Starlink

A Ukrainian serviceman stands next to the antenna of the Starlink satellite-based broadband system in Bakhmut on February 9, 2023. YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images

By Michael Kan,
Published by PC Magazine, 20 February 2024

Ukraine is in talks with SpaceX, but it’s unclear if the algorithm has been used.

The Ukrainian government has reportedly offered an “algorithm” to help SpaceX crack down on Russian soldiers using Starlink. 

“We found an appropriate algorithm, proposed it to SpaceX, and now we have clear communication on how to prevent similar cases,” Ukraine’s Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov told local public broadcaster Suspilne. 

The country’s Ministry of Defense has been raising alarm bells about Russian troops using Starlink in occupied areas of Ukraine. Last week, the country’s top military intelligence official alleged that Russian military units are using “thousands” of Starlink dishes to help them stay connected on the battlefield. 

Publicly, Ukraine only began talking about the problem about a week ago. But according to Fedorov, the country’s government is already working with SpaceX to address the issue. To do so, Ukraine looked at SpaceX’s effort to roll out Starlink in Israel, which has been concerned about Hamas commandeering access to the satellite internet system.  

Fedorov told Suspilne: “We examined and analyzed a case that occurred in Israel when the conflict escalated in Gaza. We studied how they dealt with such a situation.”

The work led the Ukrainian government to develop an algorithm that can presumably cut off access to Russian-owned Starlink units in occupied areas of Ukraine. “Specifically, SpaceX has already done something similar with the Israeli government, and we suggested a similar approach,” Fedorov added. 

It’s unclear if SpaceX ever used the algorithm or plans to deploy it. Fedorov also told Suspilne “that he does not know how the situation will be resolved.” The Ukrainian government’s aim is to block Russian use of Starlink while maintaining its own access to the satellite internet network in the country’s occupied regions. 

“We need Starlink to function there because certain technologies important to us are associated with drones,” Fedorov said. “There is another way to ensure our Starlink works while preventing the Starlink used by the occupiers from functioning. We are actively working with SpaceX.”

SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But initially, the company forcefully denied that Starlink dishes were being sold to Russian soldiers. Ukraine then released intercepted audio recordings from Russian forces indicating the contrary. In one clip, an unidentified Russian soldier mentions that the Starlink units are coming from Arab suppliers

Despite the denials from SpaceX, the company has indicated it’ll crack down on Russian use of Starlink. “If SpaceX obtains knowledge that a Starlink terminal is being used by a sanctioned or unauthorized party, we investigate the claim and take actions to deactivate the terminal if confirmed,” the company said in a tweet earlier this month. 

Starlink works by fetching the GPS coordinates of every dish on the ground. So presumably, SpaceX has a view of all the Starlink activity occurring in Ukraine, including in occupied territories. It’s likely why the Russian government has officially barred Starlink use among the country’s soldiers since it could expose troop positions.

See: Original Article