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What is a dongle? How to choose the best HASP key

Olga Weis Olga Weis Last updated Feb 16, 2021

A software protection dongle is a device that allows you to protect content from accessing and copying. A hardware key has a product key or other protection mechanism. By attaching it to a computer or another electronic appliance a user can unlock software functionality or decode content or access a hardware device.

Why is a dongle called a dongle?

There is a story that ‘dongles’ is derived from the name of a person who designed dongles first – Don Gall. A good advertising trick, but actually nobody knows for sure why dongles are called dongles. An early dongle was a solid and non-dangling RS232 block, it’s only modern dongles that dangle, and only when attached to a key-fob or lanyard.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, dongle first appeared in reference to computer security systems sometime between 1980 and 1982, when someone was seeking a term for a doodad that dangled, dong-like, from a device—and dug up dongle.

There are seven different theories that explain etymology of the term:

  1. An Arbitrary Coinage
  2. A Phonesthetic Coinage
  3. A Corruption of the Word "Dangle"
  4. An Appropriation From Poetry
  5. A Nerdy Hypothetical From a College Entrance Exam
  6. A Cheeky Invention of an Ad Man (or Woman)
  7. The Result of Occam's Razor

Etymology is "Arbitrary".

Access remotely to USB security dongle with Donglify

Donglify is a professional solution that allows USB security keys to be shared. Using Donglify can make it much more convenient to use hardware dongles.

This dongle sharing software solution is compatible with many types of security keys. Donglify lets you access security dongles remotely over a network. The key’s functionality can be shared with remote network-connected users no matter where they are located.
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Types of dongles

We already know what is a dongle, let's see what types and purposes does it have. There are 5 main types of USB dongles:

Storage USB dongle

Perhaps the majority of modern dongles are used for Memory and Storage. Every other person would carry a USB flash drive or memory stick with files, documents, computer applications, etc. Term papers and assignment for printout, pictures from your last trip to the seaside, handy software tools to share with colleagues and friends are now conveniently stored on Flash drives instead of floppy disks and CDs.

USB security dongle

Used for authentication, USB Security dongles help protect your hardware or software from unauthorized access. Networks and software applications can be designed in such a way that they cannot be accessed without a software key, i.e. your security dongle. Electronic signatures are kept on such dongles.

3G dongle

Wi-Fi USB dongles enable desktops and laptops with no internal Wi-Fi cards to connect to the Internet wirelessly. It is mostly ultra-slim notebook models that require an external device, or rather software that allows computer’s OS to locate Wi-Fi signal.

GPS dongle

GPS technology has become an essential part of Smartphone software, and dongles for GPS Navigation are not much in demand these days. However if you don’t have your smartphone within reach, you still might find them useful GPS navigation USB dongles turn your laptop into a navigation system. Powered entirely by a computer, they won’t let you down.

USB adapter dongle

Bluetooth Dongles pass information between two computers and more, smartphones, and other devices – no extra cables or cords are required. Link your computer or laptop to a network and connect to any external device – from a mobile phone to a keyboard.

What is a HASP key?

Dongles are not as prevalent in the computing world as they used to be. Mobile devices, cloud services, and wireless communication have made them less useful than in the past. HASP keys, also known as USB security dongles, are still widely used. The question then is what is a HASP key?

A Hardware Key (HASP) or dongle is a device developed to provide software copy protection that connects to your computer via its USB interface. Here’s how a USB dongle works. When an application starts, it searches for the HASP dongle to obtain the security code that will allow it to execute. Hardware security devices such as an Aladdin dongle cannot be duplicated and provide an efficient and effective method of copy protection.

A security key or dongle supplies electronic copy and content protection. They are used to enable functionality or unlock content when connected to a computer. The device is preprogrammed to furnish a product code or an encryption key when queried. They accomplish this electronically through a connection to a computer’s or device’s external interface.

Dongles are two-interface security devices that use transient data flow and pull communication to allow the information they contain to be extracted and read. If an application cannot access a required dongle it may not run or its functionality will be limited. Dongles are also used to process encoded video streams or enable functions in other electronic equipment.

What is the best security key?

We will now take a look at the features of some of the most popular dongles. This list should help you find the best security dongle for your situation.

What is the Sentinel HASP?

The Sentinel HASP operates through the release of protected application binary code. Software applications are designed that require specific Sentinel HASP Protection Keys before they can be used. Users first install the protected software and then connect the key to their machine to access its full functionality. HASP keys come in two different varieties that can address specific usage scenarios.

  • Sentinel HASP HL - The HASP HL key is connected to a computer’s USB interface.
  • Sentinel HASP SL - A HASP SL key has its data sent over the Internet to the HASP Business Studio Server. The server returns a Sentinel HASP SL key which the user then installs on their machine.

The Sentinel HASP is an ideal solution for easily managing protection and licensing systems for ISVs. Users can quickly get up to speed with the device due to its intuitive toolset. The key employs cross-locking technology so the marketing and engineering processes can be kept separate.

Specialized security dongles are manufactured with features and connectivity options that make them suitable for a variety of uses.

Yubico HASP

Yubico’s YubiKey 5 NFC is an excellent choice and is the best key for users who need to log into online accounts and services.

  • The Yubico HASP is a powerful device that is disguised by its unassuming cardboard and plastic packaging. It can be attached to a keyring and sign-in confirmation is provided through a gold disk.
  • The Yubico is essentially indestructible and provides a waterproof and extremely durable security dongle.
  • The YubiKey 5 NFC supports many security standards including Smart Card, OpenPGP, OTP, FIDO U2F, and FIDO2.
  • The YubiKey 5 uses a USB-A connector and wireless NFC to provide security capabilities to Windows and macOS computers as well as iOS and Android devices. The NFC feature and USB-A port are very dependable when used with mobile devices.

Google Titan Key

Google’s Titan security key provides its functionality with Bluetooth connectivity. The key can be connected via USB-A and USB-C interfaces and includes Bluetooth compatibility. A minor issue is that the device needs to be charged through a micro-USB port to use the Bluetooth feature.

Kensington Key

An example of a very specialized security key is the VeriMark Fingerprint security key by Kensington. It features multi-function capabilities that can be used as a Windows Hello fingerprint scanner as well as a U2F security key. The device is limited by the requirement that a software drive be downloaded and installed to use its fingerprint reading capability.

SafeNet eToken 5110

The SafeNet eToken 5110 is an excellent solution for maintaining compliance with security and privacy regulations. Businesses operating in the digital marketplace can also make great use of the device to protect their network and online assets.

Secure, two-factor authentication is used to protect remote network access. Digital signatures and pre-boot authentication can also be implemented with this security key.

  • The portable USB token can be used without the use of a dedicated reader.
  • Enhanced security is enabled by digital signatures and pre-boot authentication.
  • Common Criteria and FIPS-certified versions of the tool are available.
  • Productivity enhancements throughout an organization can be enjoyed with the ability to securely access systems remotely.
  • No training or extensive technical knowledge is necessary to use the device.

CodeMeter CmStick

The CmStick forms the foundation of the CodeMeter Digital Rights Management system. It is a compact device that provides 328 Kb of memory. This storage enables thousands of licenses to be securely stored. The CmStick enables licenses from many different vendors to be stored in the same device for a convenient method of protecting software assets.

  • The Hyperstone U9 flash controller provides outstanding durability, reliability, and data protection with patented hymap firmware that eliminates concerns over loss of power.
  • CodeMeter is powered by the Infineon SLM97 smart card chip.
  • An optionally encrypted partition in the device’s flash memory known as the CmSecureDisk allows information generated by software or configuration details that have been verified by the CodeMeter API to be securely stored.
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