Software copy protection is a mechanism designed to eliminate the possibility that licensed computer programs are run on more machines than the number specified in the licensing agreement. “Copy protection” is the generally accepted term for this practice, which is meant to protect the intellectual and financial interests of the software’s developers. Reproducing the media on which an application is delivered can be a way to subvert this protection, allowing multiple copies of a licensed program to be executed without an accompanying license.
Developers and software manufacturers have employed different methods in attempts to gain better control over who is using their product. One such method is the use of dedicated hardware keys or dongles that provide authentication which enables the activation of a specific application. Use of these keys makes it impossible to unlock the functionality of an application in the absence of the device and offers protection against software piracy.
This article will look at the advantages and disadvantages of using hardware security keys. We will also discuss using a dongle emulator that enables the hardware key to be shared with remote users across a network.
Use of a software USB emulator such as FlexiHub enables users to create a virtual copy of a security key and redirect its functionality over a network. When using this USB dongle emulator, a security key can be accessed from any location regardless of physical proximity to the device. It is dongle emulator software that works with any IP-based network like the Internet, Ethernet, Lan or WiFi.
FlexiHub uses dongle emulation which makes it appear that the security key is directly attached to the USB interface of a remote computer. It allows you to share 3Shape and SigmaKey dongles with multiple users simultaneously as well as easily access the devices from within virtual environments.
That's all there is to it! You now have the full functionality of the USB security key without physically connecting it to your computer.
The software applications that typically use dongles are usually specialized and do not enjoy widespread use. This can result in the cost of a replacement dongle to run into hundreds of dollars. In some cases, the only remedy to a lost security key is to purchase the software package again. Proponents of dongle emulation feel that these are unfair restrictions that do not take the way users actually use the devices into consideration.
Early use of dongle protected software just required the device to be connected to the machine in order to run the program. This tactic was cracked by hackers who spoofed the key, tricking the software into activating. More sophisticated dongles are now in use which contain program code or perform supplemental tasks for the application. This strategy can defeat the type of dongle emulation that simply reports that a dongle is present. You can be sure that hackers will attempt to crack these defenses, forcing newer encryption methods to be adopted.
Some software companies are working to assist users with USB key emulation and are working on HASP dongle emulators. Here are some examples:
A software HASP emulator for the Aladdin HASP and Safe-Net HASP enables you to backup and virtualize the dongle. It enables you to run protected software just as if the physical security key is attached to your machine. The tool works with parallel HASP hardware keys and USB dongles. Using this HASP key emulator helps protect the original device from damage, loss or theft. The Safe-Net HASP dongle emulator allows you to access protected applications from within virtual machines. Unfortunately, not all USB keys are supported by this solution.
Soft-Key Solutions has been offering solutions for security key users since 1998. They provide a Sentinel dongle emulator that encompasses SafeNet’s complete family of Sentinel HL keys including HASP, TimeHASP, NetHASP, and MemoHASP. The software does not impose limitations on the number of supported programs and is transparent to other dongles. The physical security key and its emulation can be used simultaneously. No changes are made to the software or the original driver.