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What is a Smart Card Programmer?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2016
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A smart card is a card that may be capable of data storage, or may also have a microprocessor and therefore be, in essence, a miniature computer and be capable of data processing. The maximum specs of smart card include 8 kb (kilobytes) of RAM, 346 kb of ROM, and 256 kb of ROM that is programmable, along with a 16-bit microprocessor. A smart card programmer is a device for programming smart cards.

There are a growing number of uses for smart cards. They may be used in computer security systems, for example in smart card keyboards, or in building access. They can function as credit cards, electronic cash, or banking cards. They can also be employed in loyalty systems or as identification cards. The precise use that is planned for the smart cards will dictate how the smart card programmer is set up to format them.

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Some of the decisions that must be made before the smart card programmer is put to work involve deciding whether the card will have a single use or multiple uses, whether it will keep record information or value, and whether some or all of the data on the card must be kept secure. Decisions about encryption and validation to access the card, such as passwords or PIN numbers are also important to make before deciding the appropriate smart card and smart card programmer to use and making sure the card and programmer are compatible. Another important issue is the language that will be used to program the cards: while some cards are programmed in JAVA, others are programmed in BASIC, or other languages.

Another important consideration when choosing the smart card programmer and one of the key differences between models, is whether it is a contact smart card programmer or a contactless smart card programmer. A contact smart card is one that must be inserted into a reader. A contactless smart card, on the other hand, has a Radio Frequency Identification tag (RFID) embedded, and — as long as it comes within “reading range” — can communicate with a smart card reader at a distance.

Some smart card programmer devices are made to work with many types of smart cards, while some are configured for only one specific type. Some are meant for cards that are going to be disbursed and some are designed for on-site use in circumstances in which re-keying and/or adding new users are ongoing issues. In addition, some smart card programmers are provided in a case that may double as a reader and that includes a battery pack, a protective cover plate, and other protective, durability, and functional features. Others are provided as a circuit board to which a case, a serial cable, and a 9-volt DC battery must be added for functionality and to protect the programmer. On the other hand, the first type sell for over $1000 US Dollars (USD), while the latter is less than $25 USD.

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