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Viasat outage was ‘Russian electronic warfare’ says satellite industry

Rendering for illustration. Provided by Viasat.jpg

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

The Reuters news agency reported at the weekend that “unidentified hackers [had] disrupted broadband satellite internet access in Ukraine” from Viasat’s KA-SAT.

The agency said that intelligence services from Europe and the US were investigating “whether the remote sabotage of a satellite internet provider’s service was the work of Russian-state backed hackers preparing the battlefield by attempting to sever communications”.

KA-SAT provides satellite internet access for a number of service providers across Europe (see picture), and the action seems to be not limited to Ukraine.

“We think 10,000 terminals across Europe have been knocked out. The Russians have fried them,” said one satellite executive to Capacity, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another executive said, on the same condition of anonymity, that the attack “came as no surprise”.

Inmarsat, which is due to merge with Viasat later this year, said: “Inmarsat and Viasat remain separate companies until the deal closes, which is expected to be late this year, pending shareholder and regulatory approval.”

Capacity was told by a satellite executive: “Russian criminals, in particular, have been known to use broadcast jammers near earth stations to shut down downlink signals during football matches.”

But it’s not yet clear how this attack was carried out. “Ordinarily we’d really like to help but given the sensitivity [we can’t comment],” said one executive, directing Capacity to the security services.

Another pointed out that jamming a satellite signal “is not hard to do”, though that explanation would presumably be for short-term interruption in service.

Reuters reported that the attack began on the morning of 24 February, just as the Russian army was beginning its invasion of Ukraine. It put modems across Europe out of operation.

Viasat said then that it was "experiencing a partial network outage-impacting internet service for fixed broadband customers in Ukraine and elsewhere on our European KA-SAT network".

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.”

KA-SAT was a joint venture between Viasat and Paris-based Eutelsat until 2020, but Viasat took total ownership in a €140 million deal.

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