By Stephen Bucaro
A smart card is a security card that is the size of a credit card. Smart cards
are typically used to make prepaid telephone calls, pay for subway, train, or
bus transportation, make electronic payments, get access to a restricted area,
computer or network.
Smart cards are more popular in Europe than in the United States. In the United
States Magnetic stripe technology is in wider use. However a smart card contains
a small amount of semi-conductor memory that can store more information than a
magnetic stripe card.
Some smart cards contain an embedded microprocessor which can be programed with
applications. Some smart cards have electrical contacts, the microprocessor is
under a gold contact pad on one side of the card. Many cards are contactless
and use radio-frequency to operate.
Some smart cards are designed to be inserted into a slot and read by a card
reader. Many cards require a password or PIN to activate. Other smart cards can
communicate by being in the proximity of a special reader. Proximity smart cards
are sometimes in a different form than card shaped.
Smart cards can be used with a USB card
reader attached to a PC to authenticate a user.
Smart cards are difficult to counterfeit because the cards contents are encrypted,
but proximity smart cards which can be read at a distance, can be hacked by person
walking nearby even if you don't have the card out of your wallet or purse.