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Types of Smart Cards
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A variety of smart cards are available, each defined according to the type of chip it uses. These chips range in their processing power, flexibility,
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memory, and cost. The two primary categories of smart cards memory cards and microprocessor cards are described in the following sections.
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Memory cards have no sophisticated processing power and cannot manage files dynamically. All memory cards communicate with readers through synchronous protocols. There are three primary types of memory cards:
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Standard memory cards These cards are used solely to store data and have no data processing capabilities. These cards are the least expensive per bit of user memory. They should be regarded as floppy disks of varying sizes without the lock mechanism. Memory cards cannot identify themselves to the reader, so the host system must recognize the type of card that is being inserted into a reader. Protected/segmented memory cards These cards have built-in logic to control access to memory. Sometimes referred to as intelligent memory cards, these devices can be set to write-protect some or all of the memory array. Some of these cards can be configured to restrict access to both reading and writing, usually through a password or system key. Segmented memory cards can be divided into logical sections for planned multifunctionality. Stored value memory cards These cards are designed to store values or tokens and are either disposable or rechargeable. Most cards of this type incorporate permanent security measures at the point of manufacture. These measures can include password keys and logic that are hard-coded into the chip. The memory arrays on these devices are set up as decrements, or counters, and little or no memory is left for any other function. When all the memory units are used, the card becomes useless and is thrown away or recharged.
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These cards have on-card dynamic data processing capabilities. Multifunction smart cards allocate card memory into independent sections assigned to specific functions or applications. Embedded in the card is a microprocessor or microcontroller chip that manages this memory allocation and file access. This type of chip is similar to those found inside personal computers; when implanted in a smart card, the chip manages data in organized file structures via a card operating system (COS). Unlike
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other operating systems, this software controls access to the on-card user memory. As a result, various functions and applications can reside on the card. This means that businesses can use these cards to distribute and maintain a range of products. These cards have sufficient space to house digital credentials (that is, public and private key-pairs). Further, through the use of the use of the on-card microprocessor chip, many of the needed cryptographic functions can be provided. Some cards can even house multiple digital credential pairs.
Readers and Terminals
Smart cards can be plugged in to a wide variety of hardware devices. The industry defines the term reader as a unit that interfaces with a PC for the majority of its processing requirements. In contrast, a terminal is a self-contained processing device. Terminals as well as readers can read and write to smart cards. Readers come in many form factors and offer a wide variety of capabilities. The easiest way to describe a reader is according to the method of its interface to a PC. Smart card readers are available that interface to RS232 serial ports, Universal Serial Bus (USB) ports, PCMCIA slots, floppy disk slots, parallel ports, IRDA (infrared data) ports and keyboards, and keyboard wedge readers. Another way to distinguish reader types is according to onboard intelligence and capabilities. Extensive price and performance differences exist between an industrial-strength intelligent reader that supports a wide variety of card protocols and a home-style Windows based-card reader that works only with microprocessor cards and performs all the data processing in the PC. The options available in terminals are equally numerous. Most units have their own operating systems and development tools. They typically support other functions such as magnetic stripe reading, modem functions, and transaction printing.
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