What is a Smart Card System?

Mary Elizabeth

A smart card is a type of security product than may also be called an ICC (integrated circuit card), or chip card. In many cases, a smart card contains a computer chip, and some chips have an embedded microprocessor, capable of receiving and processing data. Smart cards may need to be swiped to be read or may be “contactless smart cards,” which have an RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tag and do not have to touch a reader. A smart card system is an application that uses a smart card to complete a transaction of some kind.

Woman doing a handstand with a computer
Woman doing a handstand with a computer

There are several different kinds of smart card system, with chip cards and RFID cards being used for different applications. The use of ICC credit cards for financial transactions may be the most well-known type of smart card system. Anyone who has swiped a credit card has used this type of smart card system. Another type of system is used for loyalty programs, such as cards one swipes at the supermarket checkout in order to gain savings from special sales.

There are also several types of smart card system used for security, in which a card is inserted to verify identity, and it is employed, for example, in securing doors that only authorized personnel are allowed to enter. Another smart card system used for security is the smart card keyboard, a USB 2.0 keyboard that contains a CAD (card accepting device), and which may require a password as well as a card to allow the user to gain access to the computer. Computers using a smart card keyboard are sometimes configured to make the computer inoperable if it is stolen or lost. Sometimes a biometric measure such as a fingerprint scan may be added to increase security even further. Smart card keyboards are generally used in industries in which heightened security is necessary or justified, and one can find them often in healthcare, government agencies, and financial institutions, such as banks.

The employment of a RFID smart card system usually comes about in conjunction with different situations than with ICC cards. One example is for paying one’s fare in a transit system, as is possible in Hong Kong, London, and Washington, D.C. Some employee identification tags are also smart cards. There are also driver’s licenses and e-passports that are smart cards. Cashless payment cards are another application.

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