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In the never-ending fight against hackers, pirates, or anyone else trying to invade your system, computer security is big business. Everywhere, devices are springing up for the protection of hardware, software, computer rooms and data. Increasingly sophisticated devices are appearing on the software front, while some companies have set up shop to fight the physical removal of equipment.
Two security measures which have been around for some time are data encryption and the use of dongles, neither of which are often explained. Data encryption works by encoding a message which you need to protect, which is then decoded at the receiving end. The encoding is done via a particular program designed for that purpose.
Basically a small piece of hardware, a dongle is usually comprised of a chip inside a cartridge which is encased in black plastic. This sits on the back of a micro, decked out in its black plastic mac, and without its presence you can’t run the software that comes with it. The software contains a recorded program which checks to see if the dongle is present, so each package is sold with a different dongle.
Otherwise known as a “clumsy way of protecting software houses”, the dongle is made by the software the author, who writes into the software the program that detects this object. Before you could proceed, you would have to break into the program and get rid of the dongle. How it got its name is anyone’s guess. Ask a software house whether it uses dongles and it will reply: “What’s that?”

Source: Michael Brookes and Françoise Lagoutte, English for information Technology, Bélin, 1989

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