Imagine the power of a computer, the speed and security of electronic data, and the freedom to carry that information anywhere on Earth. Imagine a computer so small it fits inside a plastic card the same size as any credit card you carry in your wallet. Imagine the smart card!
Smart card developers and marketing experts have many choices of smart card system design, including:
- Multi-application smart cards
- Single-application programmable chipcards
- Smart cards with a fixed set of functions
- Secure memory cards
Smart Card Evolution
Information technology is evolving at an amazing pace. Personal computers, fax machines, pagers, PDAs, and cell phones are in the hands of millions of people worldwide.Interest in smart card technology soared in Europe in the 1990s, and since then the number and variety of smart card-based applications have increased around the world. Some factors driving the growing interest in smart cards include the declining cost of smart cards and the growing concern that magnetic stripe cards cannot provide the protections necessary to thwart fraud and security breaches. The security issue alone may propel smart card technology to the forefront of business transactions.
Types of Smart Cards
The term "smart card" is loosely used to describe any card that is capable of relating information to a particular application such as magnetic stripe cards, optical cards, memory cards, and microprocessor cards. It is correct, however, to refer to memory and microprocessor cards as smart cards.
Magnetic stripe cards. A magnetic stripe card has a strip of magnetic tape material attached to its surface. This is the standard technology used for bank cards and can only store data which cannot be updated.
Optical cards. Optical cards use some form of laser to read and write to the card.
Memory cards. Memory cards can store a variety of data, including financial, personal, and specialized information, but cannot process information.
Microprocessor cards. Smart cards with microprocessors look like standard plastic cards, but are equipped with an embedded Integrated Circuit (IC) chip. They 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 require a card reader) or "contactless" cards (which use radio frequency signals to operate).
The Microprocessor Smart Card
The microprocessor smart card is defined as an IC chip contact card with a microprocessor and memory. The size of a credit card, this smart card contains a dime-sized microchip that can process and store thousands of bits of electronic data. Unlike passive devices (such as a memory card or magnetic stripe card) that can only store information, the microprocessor smart card is active and able to process data in reaction to a given situation.
This capability to record and modify information in its own non-volatile, physically protected memory makes the smart card a powerful and practical tool - smart cards are small and portable, they can interact with computers and other automated systems, and the data they carry can be updated instantaneously.