What is a Smart Card

By | February 6, 2017

A smart card is a flexible Plastic Card, usually made of PVC, that contains one or more embedded integrated circuits. The integrated circuit in a smart card is often referred as ICC, Smart Card Chip, Smart Chip Modules or Secure Microcontroller (Secure MCU) while the smart cards are often also referred as smartcards, chip cards, IC cards, ICC or CPU cards.

Smart cards.

The physical characteristic of a Smart Card are specified by the ISO/IEC 7816-1 (Identification cards – Integrated circuit cards – Part 1: Cards with contacts – Physical characteristics) while the locations and dimensions for the contacts are specified by the ISO/IEC 7816-2 (Identification cards – Integrated circuit cards – Part 2: Cards with contacts – Dimensions and location of the contacts).

Location of the contacts on a smart card

Contact smart cards does not normally contain any battery and the power necessary to operate is supplied by the Smart Card Reader that act as the communication medium between the smart card and the host (e.g. smartphone, computer, POS). Contact Smart Card Readers interface with the Smart Cards by means of up to eight contact PINs while Contactless Smart Card Readers do not require physical contact with the card. The contact pads on the card are gold-plated and two of them (RFU) are normally not used.

Smartcard contact pad pinout.

While the position, minimum and maximum dimensions and location of the contact pad are standardized, the layout of the contact pad can be freely designed by the chip manufacturer or by the card vendors.

Contact smart card pads layouts.

The contact pads are connected to the chip by means of extremely thin bonding wires that are buried into the encapsulation resin.

Cross section view of the structure and packaging of a smart card chip

Smart cards can be classified according the type of chip implanted within the card and how the card interchange data with the Card Reader. The illustration below clarify the classification:

Types of smart cards

MCU Cards / Microprocessor Cards
Microprocessor Cards embeds a micromodule containing one or more silicon integrated circuit chips with memory and microprocessor. Microprocessor Cards have data processing capabilities and are conceptually equivalent to a computer with their own OS called Card Operating System (COS), a File System and applications. Multiple applications can be loaded on a MCU Card.

Memory Cards
The chip of a Memory Card hold and store data into EEPROM or Flash Memory but there no processor and therefore there is no processing capabilities. Memory Cards are a secure and popular alternative to magnetic stripe cards.

Display Cards
Display Cards are smart cards that in addition to the standard chip embeds at least a battery, an additional chip and a LCD display that is used to display secret keys or One Time Passwords.

Contactless Smart Cards
A contactless smart card embeds integrated circuits and at least an antenna that communicate with the terminal via radio waves.

Hybrid Cards
An hybrid card is a type of smartcard that embeds two chips, one that communication via the contact interface and a second one that is used to communicate via the contactless interface. Hybrid Cards are sometime called Twin Cards. Altough still on the market their use is in steady decline.

Dual Interface Smart Cards
A Dual Interface Smart Card, also known as Combi Card) is a type of smartcard that embed a single chip able to manage both the contact and the contactless interface.

Exploded view of a dual interface smartcard.

Multi Component Cards

Multi Component Cards are smart cards that in addition to the standard chip embeds one or more electronic components, e.g. battery,  LCD display, fingerprint sensor.

A multi-component card from Oberthur Technologies with a LCD display on the back side.

The smart cards contain unique features that bring many benefits to both consumers and issuing organizations:

  • Portability
  • Tamper-resistant chip
  • Weather-resistant
  • A single smart card can be programmed with multiple banking credentials, driver’s license entitlement, loyalty programs, medical entitlement and club membership just to name a few
  • Relatively cheap to manufacture
  • Capable of performing encryption
  • Capable of execute relatively complex computational scripts and to execure pre-loaded applications
  • Each smart card has its own, unique serial number
  • Information and applications on a card can be updated without having to issue new cards
  • Reliability that is virtually unaffected by electrical and electromagnetic fields
  • A smart card can be easily replaced if lost.

Despite the many advantages there are still few disadvantages:

  • Because smart cards are small and lightweight can be easily lost
  • Need a smart card reader (contact or contactless) to be used
  • Might give a sense of false security.

The Smart Cards are used in hundreds of different applications that can be grouped into the following macro categories:

  • Sim Cards
  • Financial Cards
  • Access Control Cards
  • Company ID Badges
  • National ID Cards
  • Healthcare Cards
  • PKI Cards
  • Encryption Key Store Cards
  • Loyalty & Membership Cards

The chips used in smart cards are also used in used to store secret keys or to perform security-related computations in ePassports, wearables, IoT devices.

Companies involved into Smart Card business from the Card Industry Directory.

Sort By: Business NameZIP Code
@RFID
@RFID Sofia
Mladost bl.20 app.26
Sofia
Bulgaria
1750
,
http://arfid.eu/contacts/
+359 88 887 32 54
+359 2 884 55 82
A Card Company
14/F Aberdeen Industrial Building
Block B
236 Aberdeen Main Road
Aberdeen
Hong Kong
http://www.acard.com.hk/
+852 25819524
+852 28580594
Abacicard
Abacı Kart Sanayi ve Ticaret A.Ş.
Çelik Caddesi N69, Seyrantepe, 4. Levent Istanbul
Turkey
34418
http://www.abacicard.com/
+90 212 324 3400
+90 212 324 3403
ABCorp
2200 Fletcher Avenue
Fort Lee
New Jersey
USA


NJ 07024

Formerly known as "ABnote".

http://www.abnote.com
+1 (201) 592-3400
+1 (201) 224-2762
Adc Plasticard
ADC Plasticard Ltd.
Unit D1, South City Business Park
Whitestown Way Dublin
Ireland
Dublin 24
http://www.adc.ie/
+353 1 4649800
+353 1 4649888
ADI Kartes
58a Bauskas Street 318
Riga
Latvia
LV-1004
+371 67295420
Advance Card Technology
Advance Card Technology Factory
4010 Al Kharaj Branch Road
New Industrial Area
Riyadh
Saudi Arabia
14331
Smart Card Manufacturer

Advance Card Technology Factory has been founded in the year 2002 and since then it has bee constantly expanding and innovating in card manufacturing business.
ACT offers a diverse portfolio of products, and it is one of the leading card manufacturing companies in the GCC region. Those products include: Scratch cards, SIM cards, ID cards, loyalty cards, banking and EMV cards.

http://www.act-card.com/
+966 11 812 1877
+966 1 2653687
Advanced Card System
Units 2010-2013, 20th Floor
Chevalier Commercial Centre
8 Wang Hoi Road
Kowloon Bay
Hong Kong
http://www.acs.com.hk
+852-2796-7873
+852-2796-1286
Aisino
Aisino Co., Ltd.
Aisino Science Park 18A, Xingshikou Road
Haidian District Beijing
China
http://www.asgcc.com/
+86 10 88896951
+86 10 88896969
AKD
Agencija za komercijalnu djelatnost d.o.o.
Savska cesta 31
Zagreb
Hungary
HR-10 000
http://www.akd.hr/
+385 1 3657 720
+385 1 4843 518
Alfredo Molina Flores Impresores
Av. Quilín 3700
Macul
Santiago de Chile
Chile
http://www.amf.cl
+56 2 22212116
+56 2 22212571
Alioth
72, Oktyabrskaya Street
Moscow
Russia
127521
http://en.alth.ru
+7 (495) 645-44-60
Allcard
765 Boxwood Drive
Cambridge
Ontario
Canada
N3E 1A4
http://www.allcard.ca
+1 519 6509515
+1 519 653 5918
Allegheny Printed Plastics
1224 Freedom Road Cranberry Township
Pennsylvania
USA
PA 16066
http://www.printedplastics.com
+1 724 7760100
+1 724 7762909
Allpay Cards
Fortis et Fides
Whitestone Business Park
Whitestone
Hereford
UK
HR1 3SE
https://allpay.cards/
+44 (0)844 557 8327
Allsafe Technologies
290 Creekside Drive
Amherst
New York
USA
NY 14228
http://www.allsafe.com
+1 (716) 691-0400
+1 (716) 691-0404
Amagroup
Via Ponte Polcevera 8/16
Genova
Italy
16161
http://www.amagroup.eu/
+39 010 7411139
+39 010 7416204
ANY Security Printing
Halom u. 5
Budapest
Hungary
1102
http://www.any.hu
+36 1 431 1200
APO Production Unit
2nd Floor
Philippine Information Agency Building (PIA)
Visayas Avenue
Quezon City
Philippines
http://www.apo.gov.ph/contact-us/
+63 02 2825309
+63 02 9276793
APS
APS S.A.
9, Avenue Des Hauts-Fourneaux
Esch-sur-Alzette
Luxembourg
L-4362
,
http://www.apscard.lu/
+352 54 55 80 470
+352 54 55 80 555

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