Understanding smart card technology

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You may have never considered it before, but smart card technology is everywhere. You probably own several. Your loyalty card for your favorite store, your pre-paid laundry room card, the card that lets you into your office building – all smart cards. There are more than ten billion devices in use across the world that use smart card technology, and that number is growing hugely by the day.

Types of smart card

There are several different types of smart card:

  • Contact smart cards require contact with the card capture reader or terminal to work. ‘Bad’ contact, or removing the card from contact too early, can damage the circuit.
  • Contactless smart card – these do not require contact but do need to be near an antenna. They are convenient for customers as PIN numbers and signatures are not required. If cards are lost or stolen this can compromise account security if you do not notice right away.
  • Multi-component – these cards communicate both by direct contact and by antenna signal.

Benefits of smart cards

Smart cards are hugely versatile and can be used for a number of different applications – you can use them as personal identification cards, for network access, in mobile telephones, to store health records, and much more. They can also be used in multi-service systems, with users able to access different services, or different buildings in a complex, with a single card. They’re also very easy to use and reduce paper waste.

Smart cards are also very secure – more so than many other data storage devices. Encryption allows data stored in smart cards to be protected from fraud and safely transferred through the network. Some smart cards use two-factor authentication, which add an extra layer of security such as fingerprint recognition or retina scanning.

Data stored on smart cards cannot be erased and can only be accessed using the operating system the card is linked to. This makes them less vulnerable to data theft and fraud. Smart cards also fall in with the EMV standard, making financial transactions fast and secure wherever you are in the world.

Disadvantages of smart cards

While smart cards are a superior solution with lots of advantages, nothing is perfect. Their processing power is on the up but creating cards that can handle more complex processes will take time. They are also expensive to produce, with cards costing up to $25 a piece and readers potentially running into the hundreds of dollars. They also have a long production time, and options for choosing a manufacturer are limited.

A smart card reader is needed when using a smart card – while this is an advantage from a security perspective, problems can arise when the reader malfunctions for any reason, or if damage to the card makes it unreadable.

While smart cards are generally very secure, they are not invulnerable – powerful viruses can compromise their encryption and access the data. Because smart cards can hold larger amounts of data than other devices, they are often the target of these powerful attacks.