Smart cards compared to regular cards
Smart cards look like regular credit cards, they have a similar size and are equally shaped but the insides work totally different. Smart cards, unlike regular cards have an inside. Where a regular credit card is made of plastic only, a smartcard houses a microprocessor located under a golden contact pad that is placed on one side of the smart card. This processor has been put there as a replacement for the common magnetic stripe regular bank and credit cards have been using over the years.
When it comes to popularity of the smart cards, Europe is much further ahead than the United States of America. European countries use smart cards for healthcare and banking. For example, in Germany every resident has a smart card for his or her healthcare matters. The chip contains all the details on the holders insurance, which makes the administrative matters of medical facilities a lot faster and the work easier. Smart cards have been used for at least ten years already, only now have they started taking off in the US.
The old technology of using magnetic stripes is still widely used in the US. However, it is becoming clearer that they are seriously flawed security wise, as the information it contains can easily be read and written through the use of equipment that is available everywhere. This in turn makes this technique unsuitable for storing sensitive information. Where in the US the focus was on the verification and security routines, when using the cards in Europe they went the other way around. They developed a card that could hold the intelligence, making the security procedures as used in the US unnecessary.
The processor that is put inside the smart card holds the security measures where the host pc and reader communicate with it. The data on the card is accessible through the processor. Basically the workings of a smart card are not much different than a regular diskette we used to use 20 years ago.
Generally, smart cards can carry up to 8kb of RAM, 346 kb of ROM and 256kb of ROM that can be programmed. The processor would be 16bit. The card makes use of a regular serial interface and is powered by sources like card readers. The processor also handles all cryptography functions.
Smart cards, unlike regular cards can be used with any pc that carries a card reader for it and can therefore perform functions regular cards could not like authorizing users, and they can even be used to increase web security by using SSL. Some devices that can be used in combination with smart cards are PC's, mobile phones and vending machines.