Notes from dongle hell

Notes from dongle hell

One of the growth areas in digital forensics is the use of USB dongles for the licencing of software.  Every single practitioner now finds themselves managing a veritable menagerie of tiny USB devices, just to enable them to carry out their day-to-day work. 

Of course, where dongles for core forensic software are concerned, most people will possess their own NetAnalysis, EnCase or FTK dongles and these will be jealously guarded, with practitioners unwilling to let their prized (and in some cases, very expensive) hardware leave their sight.  But what about some of the lesser used, but no less valuable, licencing dongles out there?  At the moment, most labs will resound to the cries of “who’s got the X dongle? I need it to do Y”.  Several minutes of frantic searching and head scratching then ensues, until someone remembers that they borrowed it to use in the imaging lab for five minutes, two weeks ago. 

One solution to this problem is a dongle server (figure 1).

Digital Detective - Forensics Dongle Server Solution

 Figure 1

This little piece of kit may look like an ordinary powered USB hub, but it can do so much more.  The dongle server runs its own operating system, which manages each USB port separately.  When a dongle is plugged into a USB port, the operating system is then able to present this dongle to the attached network.  Using client software installed on remote workstations, practitioners are then able to grab the use of this dongle via the network, and use it as if it were plugged into their own machine.  The use of the dongle is exclusive to the person that has taken ownership of it, but they are able to surrender control at any time, and the next user can take on the use of the licence.  Each USB port is independently configurable to allow only certain users or IP addresses to make use of the licence(s).

UTN Manager

Figure 2

This means that all of your ‘we use this once in a blue moon’ licencing dongles can be stored in one location, and accessible to all of your staff via your forensic network.  The port area of the dongle server is lockable, meaning that no-one is able to remove dongles without the key; and if you use the rack-mounting kit, the dongle server can even go in your server rack for further security. 

Figure 3

If working practices allow, the dongle server can be accessed over the Internet, meaning that on-site working doesn’t have to involve carrying around thousands of pounds worth of dongles.  A remote worker can also have temporary access to a dongle when required.  The server works with all the common forensic dongles such as Feitian, Aladdin HASP, SafeNet and Wibu CodeMeter.  This means that even your core forensic function dongles can be kept securely locked away, safe from loss or damage.

Main Benefits

  • Easily share any licensing dongle via the local area network
  • Lock away expensive dongles to prevent theft
  • Easily share, and provide dongle access to remote workers
  • Easily share licensing dongles in the office without having to constantly plug/unplug and throw them around

This would be an ideal purchase for small offices that cannot afford to buy licences for everyone, particularly for expensive software which may not be used every day.



Please feel free to contact us on 0845 224 8892 (or +44 (0) 203 384 3587) to discuss any questions you may have about the functionality of the kit or to place an order.

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