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A smart card is a tiny secure cryptoprocessor embedded within a credit card-sized or smaller (like the GSM SIM) card. The ISO/IEC 7816 series of standards define:
  • the physical shape of the smart card
  • the positions and shapes of its electrical connectors
  • the communications protocols and power voltages to be applied to those connectors
  • the functionallity
  • the format of the commands sent to the card and the response returned by the card
  • etc...

In a contact-type smart card, the chip can be recognised by an area of gold-plated contacts about 1 cm^2 close to the short side of the card. Normally the contact communication is relatively slow (9.6kbps-115.2kbps). There is currently a trend towards implementing USB 1 on these contacts (up to 10Mbps), but there is not yet a final standard.

A second type is the non-contact type called contactless smart card, where the chip communicates with the card reader through wireless technology. The standard for the contactless protocol for smart cards is ISO/IEC 14443 (parts 1-4) from the year 2001.

Dual-interface (or more) cards do implement contactless and contact interfaces or multiple contactless or contact interfaces, e.g. USB and normal serial protocol.

The applications of smartcards include their use as credit or ATM cards, SIMs for mobile phones, authorization cards for pay television, high security identification and access control cards, public transport tickets, etc. They are suitable for this task, because they are engineered to be tamper resistant.

Smart cards may also be used as electronic wallets[?]. The smart card chip can be loaded with electronic money, which can be used to pay parking meters, vending machines, and merchants. Cryptographic protocols[?] protect the exchange of money between the smart card and the accepting machine. Examples for this are Proton, GeldKarte[?] and Quick[?].

One problem of smart cards is the failure rate. The plastic card in which the chip is embedded is fairly flexible, and many users are insufficiently careful with their card. Smart cards are often carried in wallets or pockets, which is a fairly harsh environment for a chip. Even a low failure rate of 1% creates significant problems for a bank that has millions of outstanding ATM cards. The reliability improves with contactless-only cards.

External links

Smart card manufacturers

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