A shipment of Starlink terminals has arrived in Ukraine after the country's digital transformation minister asked SpaceX CEO Elon Musk for help
"Starlink — here. Thanks, @elonmusk," Ukrainian minister Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted alongside an image of the back of a lorry loaded with terminals.
Musk tweeted back, "You are most welcome".
The terminals look like home satellite television dishes and can provide relatively fast internet service, by residential standards, by connecting to a fleet of satellites in low orbit.
But John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab project, took to Twitter to warn the terminals could become Russian targets.
"Re: @elonmusk's starlink donation. Good to see. But remember: if #Putin controls the air above Ukraine, users' uplink transmissions become beacons ... for airstrikes," he tweeted.
"Russia has decades of experience hitting people by targeting their satellite communications," he added in a series of 15 tweets detailing the risks.
The risk is that satellite transmissions from the ground in Ukraine could be triangulated and targeted by the Russian military, which has previously used the technique to deadly effect in Chechnya and Syria, Scott-Railton said.
"Early in a conflict with disrupted internet, satellite internet feels like a saviour. But it quickly introduces very real, deadly new vulnerabilities," he said.
"If you don't understand them, people die needlessly until they learn & adapt. This has happened again. And again," he continued.
Musk said on Saturday that Starlink is available in Ukraine and SpaceX is sending more terminals to the country, whose internet has been disrupted due to the Russian invasion.
Fedorov thanked Ukraine’s ambassador to the United States for helping to swiftly approve the activation of Starlink in Ukraine.
One of the challenges is to install end-user terminals, which require a clear view of the sky to connect to Starlink, Tim Farrar, a consultant in satellite communications said.
As high-rise buildings can block the service, one has to go to the top of the highest building nearby to set up the antenna, he said. "That's a fairly vulnerable place to be."
"It is not going to be something that can offer a replacement for terrestrial internet on a large scale," he said.
SpaceX did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.