Everything You Need to Know about Smart Card Technology

Smart cards can be described as a physical card with an embedded integrated chip that acts as a security token. These cards are generally the same size as a driving license or credit card. They can be made out of metal or plastic. In general, they can be used to connect a reader either by direct physical contact or via a short-range wireless connectivity standard, including RFID or NFC. The chip on these cards can be either act like a microcontroller or an embedded memory chip. These cards are designed to be tamper-resistant and can be used with encryption in order to provide protection for in-memory information.

Smart cards that come with microcontroller chips can perform on-card processing functions. They can also manipulate information in the memory of the chip. Smart cards can be used for several applications, though most commonly are used for credit cards and other payment cards. The distribution of these cards has been driven by the payment card industry’s move in order to support these cards for the EMV payment card standard. These cards have the capability to short-range wireless connectivity that can be used for contactless payment systems. Moreover, they can also be used as tokens for multifactor authentication.

International standards, as well as specifications, include smart card technology, with some focused on industry-specific applications. In the US, smart card technology conforms to international standards championed by the Smartcard Alliance.

How does it work?

Smart card microprocessors or memory chips can be used to exchange data with card readers and other systems over a serial interface. An external source powers the smart card itself. A smart card interacts with readers via direct physical contact or a short-range wireless connectivity standard, including RFID or NFC. The card reader can pass data from the smart card to its intended destination, a payment or authentication system connected to these readers via a network connection.

Top Uses of Smart Card

Smart cards can be used in applications that must deliver quick, secure transactions and protect personal details, including credit cards and other types of payment cards, corporate and government identification cards, and transit fare payment cards. These cards can be used to function as documents, including electronic passports and visas.

Smart cards are designed to be used with a PIN, for instance, when they are used as debit cards. Many organizations use smart cards for security purposes. In addition to this, these cards can be used for authenticating single sign-on users.

Types of Smart Cards

There are different types of smart cards available to choose from. Some of these cards include

Contact smart cards

They are the most common type of smart card. They are inserted into a smart card reader that directly connects to a conductive contact plate on the card’s surface. Card status, commands, and data can be transmitted over these physical contact points.

Contactless smart cards

They only need close proximity to a card reader to be read. No direct contact is important for the card to function. The card and the reader can be equipped with antennae and interact using radio frequencies over the contactless link.


They contain more than one smart card technology. A hybrid smart card comes with one embedded processor chip that is accessed via a contact reader and an RFID-enabled chip that can be used for proximity connection.

Dual-interface cards

They are equipped with both contactless and contact interfaces.

Memory smart cards

They contain memory chips and can store, read, and write data to the chip. The data on these cards can be overwritten or modified. These cards can be read-only and used to store data, including PIN, password, or public key.