What's in store for smart cards

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Although smart cards can carry many of the visible features standard identification cards carry, such as photos and bar codes, their reputation is made by the on-chip microprocessors and memory that are used to store data and perform security operations such as encryption.

How many functions they can perform depends on how much memory they have. Most cards in circulation today have either 8K or 16K of memory, and although that may seem small by regular computing standards, it's actually more than adequate for some of the sophisticated applications the cards deal with today.

The coming generation of smart cards uses 32K of memory, a major advance on the 2K and 4K memories of smart cards used just a few years ago, and is capable of more complex actions.

For example, the 32K card that the Transportation Security Administration will employ will eventually have multiple features such as several kinds of biometrics, digital certificates and anti-tamper functions to support the hierarchy of security requirements it will have to meet for both physical access and e-government applications.

Likewise, the Defense Department's Common Access Card is a 32K card that has the capacity for three public-key infrastructure certificates and around 30 personal demographic data elements. DOD officials expect to migrate to a 64K card within the next year.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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