Archive for the 'History Conference' Tag

The U.S. Naval Institute’s 2013 annual history conference, “Past, Present, and Future of Human Space Flight” at Alumni Hall on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy opened with the morning keynote presented by astronaut and retired Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Stafford.

Stafford, a veteran of the Gemini and Apollo programs and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, opened his remarks by expressing his pleasure at returning to his alma mater. “I’ll be talking fast today because there’s a lot of history to cover,” he said. Stafford explained that the launch of Sputnik 1 in October 1957 had a galvanizing political effect in the United States that led to a push across the country to boost science, technical, and math (STEM) education, and inspired Senator Lyndon Johnson to push for a manned space program. Stafford summarized the subsequent creation of the Mercury program, explaining that the Mercury spacecraft suffered from limitations largely imposed by the limited size of the available launch vehicles. For example, while astronauts were able to change the Mercury spacecraft’s attitude, they were not able to affect its vector — a factor that would play a significant role in the design of the subsequent two-person Gemini spacecraft.

When Yuri Gagarin made mankind’s first manned space flight on April 12, 1961, it spurred the United States to respond by launching Alan Shepard on a suborbital flight President Kennedy to make his famous speech before Congress a month later in which he called for a man to be landed on the moon and safely returned to Earth. “I’m glad he used the words, ‘safely returned,’” Stafford quipped. A little-known fact about the speech was that Kennedy had already informed, and secured the support of, key Congressional leaders prior to the speech. “So while the speech came as a surprise to many of those in Congress, to the power brokers, the deal was already done,” said Stafford. “This is a lesson in political history.”

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Kevin Mitnick, the infamous hacker and social engineer turned security consultant, gave a presentation at this year’s History Conference at the Naval Academy today. He gave numerous examples of extracting information from people and companies by using their own trust and knowledge against them. His demonstrations likely startled many of the audience members with the range of methodologies and, more importantly, the success rate.

Some may look at the seemingly endless list of ways attackers can obtain what they’re looking for and throw their hands up in despair. It’s important to take a step back and consider some important factors in responding to, and hopefully mitigating, attack vectors.

Technology alone won’t save you. If you fight technology with technology, you’ll lose. All the firewalls and intrusion detection systems in the world won’t be a guarantee that networks won’t be breached. There’s no such thing as an impenetrable system, and no such thing as bugless software. Kevin’s demonstration of exploiting vulnerabilities in widely used commercial software proves this. Moreover, this isn’t just software being used in the private sector. Many of the exploits he demonstrated take advantage of software that’s become an integral part of the way the military handles its information. As if this weren’t enough, the files used to carry out every successful exploit passed antivirus scanning without incident, and were run on fully patched, up-to-date systems.

That’s not to say technological security measures are pointless; far from it. Strong passwords, multi-factor authentication, limited access permissions, and strict data management are as important now as they’ve ever been. Placing full faith in their protection, however, is misguided.

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