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Smart Cards

Published on Feb 28, 2024


A smart card, simply speaking, is a credit card sized plastic card with an embedded computer chip and some memory. You can put it to a wide variety of uses to help simplify your daily life. Shopping, identification, telephone services and licenses are just couples of them. ISO 7816 defines the smart cards standard it details the physical, electrical, mechanical and application programming interface for it.

Smart card technology Smart card technology has its historical origin in the late 60's and 70's when inventors in Germany, Japan and France filled the original patents`. However due to several factors , not just of which was immature semiconductors technology , most work on smart cards was not at all completed so 80s' after that ,major rollouts such as the French National Visa Debit and served as eye openers to the potential of smart cards. The industry is now growing at a tremendous rate, shipping more than one million cards per year since 1998.

Manufacturing Technology

Manufacturing a smart card involves much more than just sticking a chip on the Plastic. The plastic used is usually P.V.C (poly vinyl chloride), but other substitutes like A.B.S (acryl nitrite butadiene styrene), P.C (polycarbonate) and PET is also used. The chip Is also known as micro module, is very thin and is embodied into the plastic substrate or Card. To do this a cavity is formed or milled into the plastic card. Then either a cold or hot glue process bonds the micro module to the cards.


The SIM (subscriber identification module) cards in cellphones are smart cards, and act as a repository for information like owner ID, cash balance, etc. More than 300 million of these cards are being used world wide today.
Small dish TV satellite receivers also use smart cards for storing subscription information. These are over four million in the US alone and millions more in Europe and Asia.

There are tons of other applications that smart cards can be used for. For example, they could be used for computer or internet user authentication, or for simply giving physical access through a gate. You could have resort membership cards, or tickets for mass transport such as metro rails and busses. Smart cards can be extremely usefull in Government departments department such as in collecting toll tax on highways, or as identity cards, passports etc.


1. Making of fake licenses has become almost impossible

2. If we lost our card and we suddenly inform this news to the authorized persons then they will cancel that card by giving us a new one. So no need for tension.

3. If we have a smart card then no need for keeping a bulk amount of money with us because truncation of money though cards is now possible at any place


1. It should be handle with a great care no folding is possible

Physical Structure and Life Cycle

This section discusses the physical structure of a smart card and examines the components of a smart card. It will also discuss all the phases of a card’s life cycle, and explores how the micro controller handles and transfers data securely from the card manufacturer to the application supplier and then to the bearer. As a result, we can determine how the data or information stored on the card can be protected.

2.1 Physical Structure

The physical structure of a smart card is specified by the International Standards Organization (ISO) 7810, 7816/1 and 7816/2. Generally it is made up of three elements. The plastic card is the most basic one and has the dimensions of 85.60mm x 53.98mm x 0.80mm. A printed circuit and an integrated circuit chip are embedded on the card. Figure 1 shows an overview of the physical structure of a smart card.

Smart Cards
Figure 1: Physical structure of a smart card

The printed circuit conforms to ISO standard 7816/3 which provides five connection points for power and data. It is hermetically fixed in the recess provided on the card and is burned onto the circuit chip, filled with a conductive material, and sealed with contacts protruding. The printed circuit protects the circuit chip from mechanical stress and static electricity. Communication with the chip is accomplished through contacts that overlay the printed circuit.

The capability of a smart card is defined by its integrated circuit chip. Typically, an integrated circuit chip consists of a microprocessor, read only memory (ROM), no static random access memory (RAM) and electrically erasable programmable read only memory (EEPROM) which will retain its state when the power is removed. The current circuit chip is made from silicon which is not flexible and particularly easy to break. Therefore, in order to avoid breakage when the card is bent, the chip is restricted to only a few millimeters in size.

Furthermore, the physical interface which allows data exchange between the integrated circuit chip and the card acceptor device (CAD) is limited to 9600 bits per second. The communication line is a bi-directional serial transmission line which conforms to ISO standard 7816/3. All the data exchanges are under the control of the central processing unit in the integrated circuit chip. Card commands and input data are sent to the chip which responses with status words and output data upon the receipt of these commands and data. Information is sent in half duplex mode, which means transmission of data is in one direction at a time. This protocol together with the restriction of the bit rate prevent massive data attack on the card.

In general, the size, the thickness and bend requirements for the smart card are designed to protect the card from being spoiled physically. However, this also limits the memory and processing resources that may be placed on the card. As a result, the smart card always has to incorporate with other external peripherals to operate. For example, it may require a device to provide and supply user input and output, time and date information, power and so on. These limitations may degrade the security of the smart card in some circumstances, as the external elements are untrusted and precarious.

3. Life Cycle of a Smart Card

There is an operating system inside each smart card which may contain a manufacturer identification number (ID), type of component, serial number, profile information, and so on. More important, the system area may contain different security keys, such as manufacturer key or fabrication key (KF), and personalization key (KP). All of this information should be kept secret and not be revealed by others.

Hence, from the manufacturer to the application provider, then the card holder, the production of a smart card is divided into different phases. Limitation on transfer and access of data is incremental at different phases in order to protect different areas in the smart card. There are five main phases for a typical smart card life cycle. We will discuss each of them below.

3.1Fabrication Phase

This phase is carried out by the chip manufacturers. The silicon integrated circuit chip is created and tested in this phase. A fabrication key (KF) is added to protect the chip from fraudulent modification until it is assembled into the plastic card support. The KF of each chip is unique and is derived from a master manufacturer key. Other fabrication data will be written to the circuit chip at the end of this phase. Then the chip is ready to deliver to the card manufacturer with the protection of the key KF.

3.1.1 Pre-personalisation Phase

This phase is carried out by the card suppliers. In this phase, the chip will be mounted on the plastic card which may have the logo of the application provider printed on it. The connection between the chip and the printed circuit will be made, and the whole unit can be tested. For added security and to allow secure delivery of the card to the card issuer, the fabrication key will be replaced by a personalisation key (KP). After that, a personalisation lock VPER will be written to prevent further modification of the KP. In addition, physical memory access instructions will be disabled. Access of the card can be done only by using logical memory addressing. This rserves the system and fabrication areas being accessed or modified.

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