What Does Dongle Mean?

A dongle is a piece of hardware used for software protection that is connected to a computer’s I/O port to ensure that software is executed securely. The dongle must be present for the software to run.


The dongle’s main purpose is to prevent piracy or unauthorized execution of software and its use is generally limited to high-end software with a small core market, such as audio mixing or computer assisted design software.

Other terms for dongle include hardware key, hardware token or security device.

Techopedia Explains Dongle

Dongles can reduce software piracy and can maximize profit for software vendors. However, the use of dongles is strongly resisted by customers because most people are not willing to put up with the hassle of extra hardware. As such, dongles have mostly failed to achieve wide market penetration.

Although dongles provide some measure of security against piracy, they can be cracked by modifying the software to send the signal that the dongle is attached to the computer running the software even when it is not.

In addition, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act passed in the U.S. in 2010 makes it legal to run software to bypass an external security device such as a dongle under several specific circumstances.


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Margaret Rouse

Margaret Rouse is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical, business audience. Over the past twenty years her explanations have appeared on TechTarget websites and she's been cited as an authority in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine and Discovery Magazine.Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages. If you have a suggestion for a new definition or how to improve a technical explanation, please email Margaret or contact her…