09 February 2009

Smart world of Cards!

Just check your wallets to count how many plastic cards you carry ....................................I did a random check for a different purpose and that prompted me to write this.

One of the vital signs of a digital society is the de-materialisation of several components like text, music, photographs, stock and even money. The thought of carrying money loaded in to a simple plastic card and being able to swipe it at hotels, shopping malls, traffic booths, clinics, fuel-stations, phone kiosks, and of course the ATMs is perhaps the height of comfort.


Due to the fact that they are durable and less expensive, plastic cards have found their way in several applications such as phone cards, fuel cards, insurance policy validity cards, clinic registration cards, prepaid-parking fee cards, driving license, loyalty cards, identity cards and mostly importantly in bank credit/debit cards. These cards may embed a hologram to avoid counterfeiting as well build brand identity.

History of patents

In 1968, Jurgen Dethloff and Helmet Grotrupp of Germany filed a patent for using plastic as a carrier for microchips. In 1970, the Japanese inventor, Kunitake Arimura, applied for a similar patent and subsequently the cards were introduced in Japan. In 1974, Roland Moreno of France registered his smart card patent in France, and sometime during the mid-1980s, the French banks began to use them as retail debit cards and eventually rail and road transport systems started their applications.


In order to increase the misuse of these cards special readers are associated with them. But card-skimming devices can be bought off-the-shelf leading to unprecedented violation of privacy and fraud. Banks normally use credit / debit cards to effect transactions at ATMs or at Point-of-Sale terminals. Such operations require authorisation of PIN (Personal Identity Number) and/or signature verification. Until today most such cards use only a half-inch magnetic stripe to store this data that needs to be verified with online connectivity with the back-end systems of the banking institution. However the smart cards due to the presence of the IC chips are certainly safer for cash value transactions.

Smart cards

Smart cards are chip-based plastic cards with a basic processor and memory modules in an integrated electronic circuit. In addition they are capable of strong encryption using the crypto-processor module. Their 100 bytes to 128 Kilobytes memory can store the private key signature of the card holder.
On the whole the use of smart cards provides three-fold security that is appropriate for electronic fund transfer operations:
• Something that the user knows (Personal Identity Number – PIN)
• Something the user has (physical possession of the smart card)
• Something the user is (personal biometric sample say finger-prints)

As in the case of our National Identity cards issued by the Directorate general of Civil Status (http://www.civilstatus.gov.om/), which are capable of holding cash and serving as e-wallets, the facility depends on the payment gateway agreement among the banks and the secure application that has been placed within the smart chip.

In order to load electronic cash into his smart card, the user has to either the compatible ATM or other access device capable of loading currency value issued by authorized banking institution. As and when this value depletes due to subsequent swiping for shopping activities, the value can be topped-up again.

Smart card structure

With strong security options the Smart cards technology seems to sound the death knell for the magnetic strip cards. The magnetic strip-cards are now replaced with Integrated-Chip based (ICC) smart cards. These chips carry their own Chip Operating Systems (COS) software such as MPCOS, MultOS, JavaCard, CyberFlex and StarCOS.

The ICC card that is capable of storing electronic money like a wallet is called a Stored Value Card (SVC). Chip cards can perform various duties such as pocket change, paper money, debit and credit cards, means of identification, access, or even payment. A smart card can be a simple memory-only or a microchip embedded one with a wireless antenna as well.

Memory Card, Processor-chip card, Crypto-processor card and Contact-less card are the basic types of Smart cards. The first three types of smart cards take the form of either ‘contact-based’ card which are to be read by a card reader or contact-less cards that use radio frequency signals to operate.

Use of Smart Cards

OmanOil, Shell and Al Maha fuel cards, telephone cards, executive card, etc are all chip-based cards. These are all pre-paid value cards. But truly speaking Oman Arab Bank’s smart card is the first smart card in use in Oman. The Muscat Municipality, ministry of manpower, ministry of civil services, many other shopping centres, restaurants and clinics, accept it as a means of payment.

In the case telecom cards, the initial subscription for a service uses a plastic card embedded with chip section that is the actual Subscriber’s Identity Module (SIM). The user detached this from the card and places it inside the mobile phone to validate his connectivity. The rest of PIN numbers and PUK (Personal Unblocking Key) numbers remain printed for verification on the plastic cards. Recharge cards normally have a secretly printed activation code under a thin coat of paint that is scratched off to reveal the code.

In a digital society where most transactions and interaction for authentication are automated through machines, the presence of cards, more specifically smart cards is only expected to grow. Only innovative organisations and government bodies can strategically incorporate more than one application and we are left with few cards to carry in our wallets.


Alex Smith said...

I think you have a lot of experience in blogging,Your work is really appreciable so for.Thanks for sharing such a nice information which is useful for my knowledge
Thanks for sharing.

Alex Smith said...

I think. People are very commonly using of smart cards from last few years. People are take this as their living standard. In future this will be an important part for their living.

Mazhar Hussain Shah said...

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ali naqvi said...

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