Dongles more trouble than they

After reading Mark Gibbs’ article “Let’s do IT with a dongle”, in the February 22nd issue, (page 30) I thought to myself: “That would be nice…. in theory.”

In the article, Mark described a potential solution of software piracy, whereby every piece of software have a required hardware dongle, which could contain parts of the application, and various other hooks. These (potential) hundreds of dongles, or their various amalgamations, would plug into the computer via a hardware interface.

While a good idea, it breaks what I affectionately call “Eldridge’s Law”, which states: “For every security related technology, there will eventually be an equal and opposite counter-technology.” I’m sure many of you have come up with a similar law, whether voiced, or not. I penned my law one day, as a friend was telling me how he had found a crack on the Internet for a very expensive and popular piece of 3D CAD software, which ironically enough, required use of such a hardware dongle.

The reality of the situation is that there are men and women out there who have nothing better to do with their time, but to spend it trying to break everything that we software developers throw at them to prevent piracy.

These people may not even have any interest in the actual software itself, other than the pure challenge of cracking it and obtaining the gloating rights associated with such a “NerDenouement”. We can turn every computer into a TV Cable, “Black Box” if we like, but unlike the cable box computers must be much be more flexible, to allow companies, and legitimate users the ability to perform, without having to suffer the added complexity and headache of managing potentially hundreds of dongles.

If hardware dongles can (as they have in the past) be patched with a software crack, then you are right back at square one, except you have put an added onus on every company to support dongles for their software.

We will attempt to stay one step ahead of the crackers, by coming up with various innovative solutions to software piracy, but it will always be a game of catch-up. Let’s not make our solutions become a nightmare for the end users, and the people who have to manage them

As an aside…I wonder if Mr. Gibbs, or the readers agreeing with his article, have ever downloaded and listened to an MP3…

Mark Eldridge, senior systems designer