Know Your Smart Cards
Smart cards are an integral part of daily life for the average person, and especially so for anyone working a controlled-access job – but there can be some confusion about what the term means. The term “smart card” is loosely used to describe any card that is capable of relating information to a particular application. The term can apply to magnetic stripe cards, optical cards, memory cards, and microprocessor cards. Widely used in telecommunications, ecommerce, banking applications, and government applications, smart cards protect information and allow controlled access in a variety of settings.
Let’s take a look at the various types of smart cards and their uses in daily life:
- Magnetic Stripe Card: This type of smart card has a strip of magnetic tape material attached to its surface. It is the standard technology used for bank cards and can only store data which cannot be updated.
- Optical Card: An optical card uses some form of laser to read and write to the card. Intended for uses similar to those of a magnetic-stripe card, an optical card has much higher capacity. This type of card is most frequently used for secure personal ID cards, including green cards.
- Memory Card: A memory card can store a variety of data, including financial, personal, and specialized information, but cannot process information. Embedded with memory circuits, it stores, reads and writes data to a particular location. A standard memory card only stores data; a protected memory card provides restricted access to the memory, allowing new data to be written. Some memory cards are rechargeable; disposable cards contain memory units which can be used only once.
- Microprocessor Card: A microprocessor card contains a microprocessor embedded onto the chip in addition to the usual memory blocks. It looks like a standard plastic card, but is equipped with an embedded Integrated Circuit (IC) chip and card OS. A multifunctional type of card, it can store information, carry out local processing on the data stored, and perform complex calculations. These cards take the form of either “contact” cards (which requires direct contact with a reader), “contactless” cards (which uses an embedded antenna and radio frequency band to communicate indirectly with a reader) or, more recently, dual-interface cards, which have both contact and contactless interfaces. Microprocessor cards are increasingly used for smart ID cards, access control, e-passports, PKI and multi applications where the cryptographic capabilities excellently address security issues.
- Hybrid Smart Card: A hybrid smart card is embedded with both memory and a microprocessor. The two different chips are used for different applications connected to a single smart card. For example, a proximity chip may be used to grant physical access to prohibited areas, while a contact smart card chip might be used for sign in authentication.
Smart cards are a powerful and practical tool – small and portable, they are used in numerous settings in modern life. Through understanding the technology at work in these deceptively simple-looking devices, users can understand not just how they work, but how to best protect the information on their cards. At Full Coverage Security Solutions, we are committed to helping you keep that information secure. We bring security products to individuals and organizations alike, with the goal of providing you protection where you need it most.