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Smart Cards: A Step In The Right Direction

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Smart Cards:

A Step in the Right Direction


I speak for the majority, when I say everyone has watched a movie where some sort of identification card was used to obtain access to secret files, a lab testing radioactive substances, or, possibly a health insurance plan. In the modern world we live in today, technology has been simplifying our lives for as long as we can remember. Smart cards are an example of such a technology. This technology was "invented and patented in the 1970's" (Wikipedia, 2006). France, Japan, and Germany all played crucial roles during this time, as a result, "there are some disputes regarding the actual 'inventor'" (Wikipedia, 2006). According to Wikipedia, Roland Moreno actually patented the concept of the memory card in 1974. It wasn't until 13 years later that the first form of smart cards was widely introduced in France as a system of payment for public phones. Some believed that one day smart cards will be as beneficial as computers. Of course, this "...implies that smartcards are not computers" (Saflink). At no surprise at all, smart cards, essentially, are computers in a form reduced to specific operations in microchips built into each individual card. By now you are probably wondering what the inventors had their sights on, and why smart cards are such a revolutionary step towards a simpler yet very secure identification system in almost every aspect of life.

Smartcard Variation:

The Government Smart Card Handbook states that "there are three different types of chips that can be associated with these cards: memory only, which includes serial-protected memory, wired logic and microcontroller" (Holcombe, 2004). Memory only cards offer a little more security than regular magnetic stripe cards. "Two advantages they have over magnetic stripe cards are: a) they have a higher data capacity (up to 16 kilobits (Kbits) compared with 80 bytes per track), and b) the read/write device is much less expensive" (Holcombe, 2004). These memory cards are meant to simply store data and do not perform any kind of calculations. Wired logic cards are more functional that the simple memory feature. These cards like the microcontroller design are capable of executing applications built into the file-system, besides offering encryption and authentication to its memory and content. Microcontroller cards are like tiny computers, "... [They] contain a microcontroller, an operating system, and read/write memory that can be updated many times" (Holcombe, 2004). The last two cards are available in contact and contact less types of usage. affirms "it is in this second type where the full potential of smart cards lies and where truly substantive development will take place..." (Hagland, 2000).

Current use:

Already smart cards have been playing a crucial role in our everyday lives. Do you have a cell phone? Does this cell phone use SIM cards? "The major boom in smart card use came in the 1990s, with the introduction of the smart-card-based SIM used in GSM mobile phone equipment in Europe" (Wikipedia, 2006). Cell phones with such SIM cards are quite common these days. The card stores your entire phonebook and all your text messages. Credit cards, that handy wallet in a piece of plastic, are another example of this technology. "The international payment brands MasterCard, Visa, and Europay agreed in 1993 to work together to develop the specifications for the use of smart cards in payment cards used as either a debit or a credit card" (Wikipedia, 2006). Banks interested in the use of these cards gain the "...ability to forecast a significant reduction in fraud, in particular counterfeit, lost and stolen" (Wikipedia, 2006). E-Purse, or electronic purse, have also been successful in European countries, Mondex explains:

Mondex, part of the MasterCard International suite of smart card products, enables cardholders to carry, store and spend cash value using a payment card. It is faster than handling conventional currency, and in many cases safer. It behaves exactly like cash, offering immediate transfer of value while requiring no signature, PIN or transaction authorization. (Mondex, 2005)

The system of E-Purse technology is secure, convenient, flexible, and brings control to the cardholders, who "...can only spend what is on their card, so there is no risk of going into debt" (Mondex, 2005). As we unquestionably know, your typical credit card needs a swift swipe in order to pay for those groceries or that new digital camera. These cards are therefore called contact cards. Contact cards with magnetic strips are limited in their ability to hold large amounts of data. "Smart cards can store thousands of times more information than traditional, magnetic stripe cards" (Mondex, 2005). As you may have guessed, the ladder to contact cards is contactless cards. Within a certain range, your card can be read from inside your pocket as you board a bus or any other kind of mass transportation. "Multifunction cards can also serve as network system access and store value and other data" (Smart Card Basics, 2004). The health industry is itself an enormous benefactor of smart card technology.


According to, "whether a healthcare system is privatized or government-sponsored, the security, privacy and integrity of patient information is paramount" (Smart card Strategies, 2006). To better explain how valuable smart card technology is in the healthcare environment, I will describe a scenario. A patient is reeled into the emergency room after a serious car accident. This patient is unconscious now, and doctors must act fast in order to save their life. The doctor reaches into the patients pocket and pulls out his wallet which contains a driver's license, some credit cards, and a healthcare smart card. Inserting the smart card into a card reader, the doctor quickly establishes himself with the patient's medical history including "...vital data such as allergy information, organ donor status, emergency contact numbers, medication, prenatal information, and personal insurance data" (Cohen, 2003). Besides being very rapidly accessible in situations like the one described, smart cards can also decrease time per visit, decrease paper work, and reduce costs of any hospital or clinic. explains that "the biggest [advantage] for physicians and other clinicians is digital signaturing and certifying, technologies that



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