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.
Dongles are typically attached to a PC via parallel ports, although in Macs you can also use ADB ports. A dongle passes all data coming through the port it is attached to, so the ports can actually be used for other purposes. It is not uncommon to attach several dongles to a single port.
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:
Etymology is "Arbitrary".
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Here is a list of the best security dongles and most popular HASP keys.
Yubico’s YubiKey 5 NFC is the best key you can use for logging into online accounts and services across a wide range of devices. It uses a USB-A connector and wireless NFC to provide security for Windows and macOS machines, Android devices and iPhones. I have never had trouble when using the NFC feature with a mobile device. The same can be said for the USB-A port. The YubiKey 5 NFC supports a multitude of security standards including Smart Card, OpenPGP, OTP, FIDO U2F, and FIDO2.
The Yubico HASP is manufactured in Sweden and the USA. Its simple cardboard and plastic packaging disguise its powerful capabilities. The design includes a keyhole ring to easily keep track of the device and sports a gold disk that is pressed for sign-in confirmation. The Yubico provides a virtually indestructible, durable, and waterproof security key.
The Sentinel HASP protects software security by releasing a single protected application binary. Software packages are then created and released which rely on predefined Sentinel HASP Protection Keys for activation. End-users need to apply the Sentinel HASP Protection Key after they install the software to activate its functionality. Two different types of keys can be created and distributed with the application.
Sentinel HASP SL - This type of key is transmitted over the Internet to the HASP Business Studio Server. A Sentinel HASP SL key is returned and installed by the end-user.
Sentinel HASP HL - With this type of key, the user connects the HASP HL key to their computer’s USB interface.
The Sentinel HASP satisfies the requirements of the majority of ISVs searching for a protection and licensing system that is easily managed. The product includes intuitive tools that shorten the learning curve and quickly become productive. It uses cross-locking technology which allows vendors to remain competitive by separating the marketing and engineering processes.
Some security dongles have additional connectivity options and features that make them even more specialized.
A case in point is the VeriMark Fingerprint security key. Its multi-function design serves as a U2F security key as well as a Windows Hello fingerprint scanner. To use the fingerprint capabilities of the device you need to download and install a software driver. This somewhat limits its utility as additional setup steps are required to make full use of the key.
Google’s Titan security key makes use of Bluetooth communication to enable security. This dongle offers flexible connectivity options with a USB-A key as well as a USB-C adapter. It’s bundled with a Bluetooth enabled key. The only drawback is that the Bluetooth key needs to be charged using a Micro USB port.