Author Topic: Altera Software Dongle Teardown  (Read 3297 times)

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Offline EEVblog

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Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« on: January 30, 2019, 05:57:38 pm »
Travel back several decades when expensive software was protected by the dreaded parallel port Dongle!

 

Offline NANDBlog

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2019, 06:56:28 pm »
Altera has a dongle, which has a bunch of logic chip in it, and not an Altera FGPA.
I know this is a third party tool, but still. I find it hilarious, when companies do this.
 

Offline Barny

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2019, 09:40:58 pm »
The CNC-programming machine Cadman from LVD uses a USB-dongle.
I don't knew why, because you need the machine from LVD to use the program.
But hey, if they need a USB-dongle even you have a big dongle standing in the shop to run the program I have to live with it.

But the most used dongled software is Windows10.
Its dongled to the hardware.
 

Offline rsjsouza

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2019, 10:33:12 pm »
I remember those when I used Max Plus with their dev kit with a 7000 and a Flex 10k on the same board. Matlab, Code Composer, 3DSMax also had this well into the 2000s. What a pain.

(Some folks spent hours with Sourcer and Turbo Debugger to try to reverse-engineer and jump their verification routine).
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Online Fungus

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2019, 01:14:56 am »
I've used Rainbow Tech dongles on my software in the past.

The way they worked was that you sent them a 32 bit number and they encrypted it and sent you the result. The encryption algorithm was configurable at the factory and each dongle was configured to a customer/account.

By comparing the results with known key/response pairs you could tell if the dongle was there or not.

Here's actual code from a program I wrote in the 1990s:

Code: [Select]
unsigned int response;
DoDongleQuery(0xbefa7d57, &response, 0x0c);
if (response == 0xf508f4d3) {
  DongleFound = TRUE;
  return;
}

 
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Offline lpaseen

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2019, 03:19:16 am »
It was 80s or so, and a company that had some high end cad program running on dos with a hw dongle. Don't remember the exact issue but the asked me if it was any way they could skip using the dongle (interfered with the plotter or something) . I expected some tricky stuff but took a look at the code and noticed that was actually two parts, one dongle driver and then the app. The app did a sw interrupt to talk to the dongle driver so it was just a case of replacing the dongle driver with my version that was answering "all is good" to the interrupt.
I was mostly wondering why they put so much effort in to the hw part when the sw part was made so stupid.
 

Online Ice-Tea

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2019, 03:22:16 am »
I remember those! I also remember we didn't have enough of them so if you wanted to fire up the IDE you'd first had to hunt down the colleague who stole it (back) from you  ;D
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Offline golden_labels

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #7 on: January 31, 2019, 04:12:53 am »
Quote from: Dave at 4:10
It’s not gonna be a microcontroller, ’cause a) they didn’t have the micros with like you know — I don’t see any crystal on here or anything like that — […] with an internal oscillator […]
I wasn’t reverse engineering the board, but it is connected to the LPT port. Not only one can generate square wave with digital data lines, but LPT itself outputs clock signal on the STROBE pin..
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Offline Chipguy

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #8 on: January 31, 2019, 05:57:17 am »
In 1990 when I was a young apprentice I worked in the engineering department of a former big TV manufacturer. One engineer was using this Quartus Software on a 386DX-16. The company bought this software but some colleagues reverse engineered this dongle and replaced the logic with: One ALTERA EPLD  8)

I rmember seening a PLCC jobbie used in one self built dongle.
They used a Dolch Logic Analyzer to reverse engineer it and the Altera software to reproduce the logic.

Unfortunately I don not have no contact to any of them anymore. As I said it was 29 years ago.
So the answer is yes. Someone has reverse engineered this back in the day when it was useful.
Where is that smoke coming from?
 

Offline orion242

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #9 on: January 31, 2019, 07:39:07 am »
We still on occasion use some old software for programing control systems that uses a sentinel hardlock.  PITA.  Anyway after playing the game for a decade or more, it "became known" that the software was checking for a windows environment variable at startup.  If one just added and set this specific variable to "NO_STINKING_DONGEL" (not joking), goodbye dongels.
 

Online Fungus

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #10 on: January 31, 2019, 08:12:18 am »
Anyway after playing the game for a decade or more, it "became known" that the software was checking for a windows environment variable at startup.  If one just added and set this specific variable to "NO_STINKING_DONGEL" (not joking), goodbye dongels.

Obviously put there by the developers after they get fed up of all the dongle crap.

 

Offline orion242

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #11 on: January 31, 2019, 11:36:48 am »
Without a doubt.  And the fact they hated it so much they put this option in, I didn't think twice about tossing them all in the trash after finding it.  The parasites even charged a fortune to trade in from parallel to USB model.  It was a whole cult that knew which specific ISA or USB parallel adapter would work with the stupid thing as time marched on.  Arghh the agony of the "dongle"
« Last Edit: January 31, 2019, 11:43:18 am by orion242 »
 

Offline glarsson

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #12 on: January 31, 2019, 06:44:31 pm »
If one just added and set this specific variable to "NO_STINKING_DONGEL" (not joking), goodbye dongels.
Just like the Rigol "-fullopt" command line option.
 

Online blueskull

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #13 on: January 31, 2019, 07:22:15 pm »
Many EDA tools are still protected by dongles. Tanner EDA, OrCAD and a bunch of Mentor tools are sold this way in one off quantity.

Kinda sentimental to people spending $$$ on a piece of software, I guess.

I literally asked if I can get a retail DVD box when I bought my copy of Altium Designer, that I can flatten and put in a frame.

Unfortunately, they no longer sell physical copies.
« Last Edit: January 31, 2019, 07:23:48 pm by blueskull »
 

Offline BrianHG

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #14 on: January 31, 2019, 08:06:26 pm »
Travel back several decades when expensive software was protected by the dreaded parallel port Dongle!


OMG, I just shot mine in the garbage about a year ago.
__________
BrianHG.
 

Offline Halcyon

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #15 on: January 31, 2019, 08:08:10 pm »
Software dongles are very much still around!

In my industry, we actually have dedicated "dongle servers" which are rack mount appliances with many USB ports. Each port houses a dongle for a particular piece of software. When you need to use the dongle-based software, instead of reaching for the physical dongle you "activate" a dongle using the dongle server software. It essentially maps the USB port in the dongle server to a virtual USB port on your PC, so to the operating system or software, it's completely transparent and as if you've plugged the physical dongle in.

I reckon in my workplace, we would have close to 40 or 50 dongles of various types which are in constant use.
 

Online blueskull

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #16 on: January 31, 2019, 08:09:17 pm »
In my industry, we actually have dedicated "dongle servers" which are rack mount appliances with many USB ports.

You sure you're not getting troubles with EULA >:D?
 

Offline Halcyon

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #17 on: January 31, 2019, 08:12:31 pm »
In my industry, we actually have dedicated "dongle servers" which are rack mount appliances with many USB ports.

You sure you're not getting troubles with EULA >:D?

Not at all. Only one dongle can be used by a single user at any one time. It doesn't allow one dongle to be shared simultaneously by many. In fact, this kind of dongle "sharing" is encouraged by most software manufacturers. It's less time spent replacing or reprogramming lost or broken dongles.

It's no different to having a physical dongle somewhere where any employee can go and grab it and use it. The licensing for these kinds of applications are generally granted to the organisation, not a particular user within the organisation.
 

Online blueskull

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #18 on: January 31, 2019, 08:29:27 pm »
It's no different to having a physical dongle somewhere where any employee can go and grab it and use it. The licensing for these kinds of applications are generally granted to the organisation, not a particular user within the organisation.

If your dongle licenses are not "name locked", then you're right (PS. There are DUMB companies selling dongle licenses with a binding legal user name, hey, Mentor).

Mentor is really interesting. Hijacking the thread for a moment, they actually tried to sell me a copy of Tanner, and once I asked them how about relocation, what if I moved to China, which violates their geo licensing policy, they told me to just illegally use it and they won't pursue :palm:. Thanks, but no thanks.

I ended up with Layout Editor and porting I3T25 PDK manually (and OpenAccess is a lie, just like the cake).
 

Online Fungus

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #19 on: February 01, 2019, 12:48:18 am »
Software dongles are very much still around!

All those cheapo laser cutters on Aliexpress come with a USB dongle.
 

Offline joeqsmith

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #20 on: February 01, 2019, 02:38:08 am »
I bought the Altera tools for hobby use and reverse engineered the dongle.   I ended up putting it into an FPGA.

As suggested, other companies did use the same Rainbow dongle.  I think I still have my developer's kit for it.  Rainbow made a few different flavors that changed the logic.   At one point I wrote a program that would read the Microchip EEPROM and store it into a file.   This was easier than pulling the part and reading it with a programmer.   

The Globetrotter license manager is still in force today but I am not sure why.   

When Intel bought Altera, I wanted to run my old Altera tools on a new PC without a printer port.  After sending Intel all of my information, it was still like pulling teeth to get the full blown license without the need for the dongle.   They wanted me to run the free tools instead.   It may be easier to get a new license file today. 

https://youtu.be/C8txvmXUIJQ?t=493
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Online Fungus

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #21 on: February 01, 2019, 02:58:25 am »
I think I still have my developer's kit for it.

I just searched my hard disk for the word "sentinal" and found my copy inside a folder of old junk.  :-DD

I attach the reference guide.
 

Offline joeqsmith

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #22 on: February 01, 2019, 12:29:58 pm »
The developer's kit, along with one of my original Altera dongles and a few others.  Of course, you some old vintage software to go with it. 

Care to guess what the custom made programmable dongle was for? 
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Online TheSteve

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #23 on: February 01, 2019, 12:41:13 pm »
The PC software for my reflow oven requires a USB dongle.
VE7FM
 

Offline HwAoRrDk

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Re: Altera Software Dongle Teardown
« Reply #24 on: February 01, 2019, 02:19:27 pm »
I remember having to use those little purple USB Sentinel dongles back in the mid '00s. It was for a piece of software used to control large, fast (and very expensive) lab-grade photographic negative scanners.

As an end-user it didn't make sense that it used a dongle, as a copy of the software was bundled with each scanner machine, and as far as I know could not be purchased separately. Perhaps it was because the software was made by a third-party company, and they primarily wanted to keep the machine manufacturer honest. :)

The software was crap anyway. It had all the signs of being done fairy amateurishly in Visual Basic by someone who wasn't a professional programmer. Also caused me many headaches by not being able to run in Windows under a non-admin account, which meant the computers could not be locked-down against undue fiddling by the machine operators. >:(
 


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