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Smart Card Technology

Smart Card Technology

What is the smart card technology? How do smart cards operate? Read on to find out.
Manali Oak
You swipe your card while entering office and your time of entry gets registered along with your name. When you go to a shopping mall or restaurant, how do you pay the bill? You use a credit/debit card. In both the cases, you make use of nothing but the smart card technology. A smart card is like a 'pocket-size powerhouse', empowering the cardholder with a facility to store personal and financial information, and perform several electronic transactions with ease and efficiency.

What are smart cards made of? How do they look? They are similar to credit cards in appearance. They are small, flexible cards that can be used for the storage and management of information. They are made of flexible plastic like PVC. A micromodule containing a silicon-integrated circuit chip is embedded in the card. The chip has memory and a microprocessor. Earlier, cards used an 8-bit microcontroller with or without encryption capabilities. Those used today have a RISC processor of 32 bits. The micromodule bears eight metallic pads on its surface. Each of them supports different functions. They are power supply, ground (GND), clock signal, programming, resetting the microprocessor, and the serial input/output (I/O) line. The other two metallic pads are reserved for future use. For a smart card to support international standards, the input/output and ground lines are essential while the others are optional.

One of the most important features of a smart card is its ease of use. Being similar in appearance and functioning to bankcards, users find them easy to use. They offer the users, a simplified interface. Moreover, they are affordable for the common man. Although their costs increase with their storage capacities, they turn out to be cost-effective for large-scale use. The next significant advantage offered by these cards is their security. The information that is stored on a smart card chip is not easy to duplicate. It is difficult for unauthorized users to manipulate this information.

Smart cards are really smart! They require only a card acceptor, often known as a card reader to read from them. One read of the card or a write to it can be referred to as a transaction. It can store data and also convert it into interactive information. Owing to their inbuilt security features, smart cards assure protection of the information stored on them and offer secure transactions. Many of them have a chip operating system and system development kits. The operating system is capable of error checking, thus equipping the cards with error correction capabilities. Some chip operating systems offer a feature to change the baud rate, thereby increasing transaction speeds.

One of the main disadvantages of smart cards is that they are susceptible to chip damage. Although it is difficult to disrupt the data stored on them, their chips can break, thus losing the data embedded on them. As the data is stored in an electrically erasable format, the information stored on the cards can be erased on applying voltage. Moreover, their security can be dampened by heating their controller to a high temperature. Probably, the most grave concern with these cards is the fear of their theft.

Where are smart cards used? They find applications in a wide range of fields. They are used in educational institutions and workplaces to process and manage student and employee information. In many cases, they have replaced the traditional bar code systems implemented in libraries. They can be used for the management of personnel information in big organizations. They find applications in the medical field where they are used for the storage and management of health information. They are used in the financial sector to facilitate home banking and billing. They can effectively track financial information such as the purchase of goods and payment of taxes. How can you forget the high-tech shopping malls? Smart cards find applications in the management of electronic shopping transactions too.

Big things come in small packages, and smart cards are a good example of this adage.
Smart Card
smart card reader