Dongle Do's and Don'ts

Jul 14, 2006 12:53 PM, By Joe Hannigan


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To prevent theft and unauthorized use of software, many companies are now using USB "dongles" instead of more easily hacked passwords. Using USB security devices allow the user to download the software for free and install it on any number of computers. The "gotcha" is that the software only runs with the dongle installed and active. No dongle, no dice.

Regardless of my personal feelings regarding dongles as a software key, here are a few tips for safe dongle use.

For engineers on the move, a USB dongle is easily lost or can drop out of a pocket. Use the hole in the side of it to attach it to a keychain or a wire-tie (or perhaps a brick!) to make it easy to find at a glance.

Experienced users suggest that if you move the dongle from computer to computer, use a USB extension cable. This way, the stress of repetitive plugging and unplugging affects the $10 cable but not the pricier dongle. You can also use heat-shrink tubing around the dongle to secure it to the USB extension.

For multiple dongles, try a USB hub. Again, there's no stress on the dongle(s) when moved.

Having recently experienced the dreaded "No USB Device Present" error message, I speak from experience. I use several dongles for my software, allowing me to move from desktop to laptop and elsewhere. It finally caught up to me as my Algorithmix-supplied WI-BU systems dongle failed without warning, and nothing except a direct company replacement was going to save me.

In my case, I used FedEx to ship it internationally back to Algorithmix in Germany. In spite of all their attempts at fast service, international customs clearance exponentially slowed the replacement dongle's delivery. To their credit, Algorithmix gave me a temporary password and time-limited access to run a stand-alone copy of reNOVAtor while I waited for the replacement to arrive.

Lesson learned: Protect the dongle whenever you move it or install it. Don't let its small size fool you. In effect, the dongle is the gatekeeper/security guard for your software. Remember that without it, the software won't start, or if it does, it has limited save and store function.

Treat this device as if it's worth its weight in gold. With some high-priced software, it actually is.

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