Access Cards & Smartcards

Memory vs Microprocessor

Smart cards come in two varieties: memory and microprocessor. Memory cards simply store data and can be viewed as a small floppy disk with optional PIN security. A microprocessor card on the other hand, can add, delete and manipulate information in its memory on the card. Similar to a miniature computer, it contains a processor controlled by a card operating system with the ability to process data onboard as well as carrying small programs capable of local execution.

The main storage area in such cards is normally EEPROM (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory), which, subject to defined security constraints, can have its content updated and which retains its current contents when external power is removed. Newer smart card chips may also have maths co-processors integrated into the microprocessor chip. The enable the ability to perform quite complex encryption routines relatively quickly.

A smart card is therefore characterised uniquely by its chip. It has the ability to store much more data than is held on traditional magnetic stripes and all within an extremely secure environment. These security features built into smart card chips are amongst the most sophisticated of their type available in the commercial world. Data residing in the chip can be protected against external inspection or alteration extremely effectively. This enables the vital secret keys of the cryptographic systems, which are used to protect the integrity and privacy of card-related communications, can be held safely against all but the most sophisticated forms of attack. The ingenuity of the cryptographers further supplements the physical security of the chip, ensuring that penetrating one card's security does not compromise an entire card scheme.

Contact vs Contactless

Smart cards have two different types of interface: contact and contactless. Contact smart cards have a visible chip plate and are inserted into a smart card reader, making physical contact between the reader and the chip plate on the card. Contactless smart cards have an embedded antenna that enables RFID communication with the reader without any physical contact. A dual-interface or combi card combines these two interfaces with a very high level of security (see below).

Twin/Hybrid vs Dual Interface/Combi

A twin card, sometimes referred to as a hybrid card, is a contactless card (like Mifare 1k for example) with a separate embedded contact chip. These cards are typically used in applications needing separate contact and contactless chip functions, but on the one card. Please contact us for further information on these products. Examples of products available include: Mifare together with - SLExxxx / ST / JAVA / AT24C / MPCOS / STARCOS. A dual interface/combi card uses a single chip for both contact and contactless applications. These are typically used where applications need to share a single chip for both contact and contactless applications, for example a shared e-purse.

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