US and Allies Attribute Attack on U.S. Satellite Provider in Ukraine to Russia

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Officials are highlighting significant spillover effects from the attack—including damage to infrastructure supporting wind farms—into Central Europe.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday acknowledged a U.S. Intelligence’ assessment that Russia was responsible for an attack on the U.S. satellite company Viasat, saying it damaged infrastructure in allied territory.

“In support of the European Union and other partners, the United States is sharing publicly its assessment that Russia launched cyber attacks in late February against commercial satellite communications networks to disrupt Ukrainian command and control during the invasion, and those actions had spillover impacts into other European countries,” Blinken said in a State Department press release. “The activity disabled very small aperture terminals in Ukraine and across Europe. This includes tens of thousands of terminals outside of Ukraine that, among other things, support wind turbines and provide internet services to private citizens.”

At a White House press conference in March, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Tech Anne Neuberger warned of potential Russian cyberattacks against satellite networks but stopped short of attributing an attack on U.S. satellite company Viasat to the Kremlin. The attribution of cyberattacks connected to the conflict in Ukraine has important implications for U.S. obligations. 

At the March press conference, Neuberger reiterated the administration’s assertion that it would be prepared to respond if Russia targets U.S. critical infrastructure in a cyberattack. Like Blinken, the official U.S. attribution of the Feb. 24 attack from the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency doesn’t mention Viasat by name, referring only to “SatCom,” meaning the satellite communications industry. 

But a press release from the United Kingdom’s National Cyber Security Center was more explicit, noting “new UK and US intelligence suggests Russia was behind an operation targeting commercial communications company Viasat in Ukraine” and that the “incident on 24 February caused outages for several thousand Ukrainian customers, and impacted wind farms and internet users in central Europe.” 

The energy component is significant given the traditional reliance of European countries like Germany on Russian gas.

In a separate but related release Tuesday, the State Department also said the U.S. The Department of Energy is helping to integrate Ukraine’s electrical grid with the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity. The move could further roil Vladimir Putin who has made Ukraine’s desired membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—NATO—and closer ties to the U.S.’ European allies a central point of contention in his war on the country.