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At the company I work for, we plan to build an appliance to simplify the deployment of our products. We will probably run a VM with docker containers underneath (containing the products) and a web application to manage those (run them, stop them, etc).

But, on top of that, we also need to have some level of security, concerning unauthorized copies. We need some way to prevent (or at least make it hard) for someone to clone the virtual machine somewhere else and use the appliance for free.

In other words, we need the most portability we can get, but we need this portability to be restricted to our manipulation only. Is there some fancy techniques or a standard that we could use? Is there a established way to provide this kind of protection?

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Hah. You can't. Piracy protection will always be broken. Sorry, but it seems it's a fact of life these days. Like Moore's law, it's only a matter of time before your protection is bypassed. – Tom O'Connor Mar 17 '14 at 14:14
As I mentioned, just making it hard would be good enough. We know there's no 100% method for this kind of protection. – hugo_leonardo Mar 17 '14 at 14:18
If it is expensive enough, it will be copied. – vonbrand Mar 18 '14 at 10:31

Why not handle it the way most others do...with online activation and licensing?

Or you can be a real PITA OEM, like Solidworks, and require either a physical usb key, or online activation tied to a specific mac address, etc.

Trying to just prevent copying isn't going to work...from the days of "Don't copy that floppy" people have found ways of copying software (or in your case VMs) somehow.

Better to force an online registration/licensing so that you not only keep an accurate count of what's out there, but you help ensure people are legal on your software.

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How about a parallel port dongle! – Tom O'Connor Mar 17 '14 at 14:30
Back it up with loss of contracted services if they are found tampering, copying, or doing anything else unauthorized. I'd hate it as a customer, but it would probably be effective. – mfinni Mar 17 '14 at 14:37
I should mention as well that it also depends on the costs of your product. If it's $99, a simple online activation once is plenty. If it's $99,999, you better have all kinds of mechanisms in place, including the parallel port dongle, anti-tampering, and the ability to remote into the customer's VM from your offices at any time or it auto-disables itself in 24 hours. :) – TheCleaner Mar 17 '14 at 14:41

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