Frequently Asked Questions
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1014328R, 1014329R, 1014330R, 1014331R, 1014335R, 1014336R
Q: What is a smart card?A:
A smart card is a plastic card about the size of a credit card that is embedded with either a microprocessor and a memory chip or only a memory chip with non-programmable logic. The microprocessor card can add, delete, and otherwise manipulate information on the card, while a memory-chip card (for example, pre-paid phone cards) can only undertake a pre-defined operation. The host computer and card reader communicate with the microprocessor. Some cards can contain programming and data to support multiple applications and some can be updated to add new applications after they are issued. Types of smart cards include: memory cards, processor cards, electronic purse cards, security cards, and JavaCards.
One of the common uses for smart cards readers on notebooks is to authenticate a user for security applications. For example; secure logon and authentication of users to PC and networks, storage of digital certificates, passwords and credentials, encryption of sensitive data, and wireless communication subscriber authentication. A smart card is inserted into the reader and then a personal identification number (PIN) is required to log onto the notebook or network.
Categories of smart cards are:
- Integrated Circuit (IC) Microprocessor Cards - Microprocessor cards (also referred as chip cards) offer greater memory storage and security than a traditional magnetic stripe card. Chip cards can process data on the card. The current generation of chip cards has an eight-bit processor, 16 KB read-only memory, and 512 bytes of random-access memory. These cards are used for a variety applications, especially those that have cryptography built in, which requires manipulation of large numbers. Chip cards have been the main platform for cards that hold a secure digital identity. Some examples of IC microprocessor cards are:
- Cards that hold money (stored value cards)
- Card that hold money equivalents (affinity cards)
- Cards that provide secure access to a network
- Cards that secure cellular phones from fraud
- Cards that allow set-top boxes on televisions to remain secure from piracy
- Integrated Circuit (IC) Memory Cards - IC memory cards can hold up to 1 KB of data, but have no processor on the card with which to manipulate that data. Thus, they are dependent on the card reader (also known as the card-accepting device) for their processing and are suitable for uses where the card performs a fixed operation.
Memory cards are primarily used for pre-paid, disposable-card applications like pre-paid phone cards. Memory cards are also popular as high-security alternatives to magnetic stripe cards.
- Optical Memory Cards - Optical memory cards look like a card with a piece of a CD glued on top - which is basically what they are. Optical memory cards can store up to 4.9 MB of data. But once written, the data cannot be changed or removed. This type of card is used for medical files, driving records, travel histories etc. Currently these cards have no processor in them. While the cards are comparable in price to chip cards, the card readers use non-standard protocols and are expensive.