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General Questions

  • What is a smart card?
  • A Smart Card is a credit-card-sized plastic card that contains an Integrated Circuit with memory, and circuitry controlling the access rules to the memory. Common Smart Cards use 5 to 8 golden contacts on one side of the card as a communication mean with a Smart Card Reader, and the Integrated Circuit is behind the contacts.

    What makes the card "smart", compared to a memory card or magnetic card, is the enforcing of access control rules to the memory: for example some areas (like card holder name) might be made read-only after it is first written; and/or an area (holding the card value) might be written only in a manner allowing the value of the card to go down, not up. This access control can be performed by an 8-bit microcontroller similar to a Motorola 6805 or an Intel 8051, or by even simpler circuitry in low-end Smart Cards.

  • Where did the phrase "smart card" come from?
  • Smart cards were independently invented in Germany (1967), Japan (1970), the United States (1972), and France (1974). In 1980, when France began a major campaign to export the technology, Roy Bright of the government's marketing organization, Intelmatique, coined the phrase "smart card" to describe the technology.

  • Is it "smart card" or "smartcard"?
  • Most English dictionaries use "smart card" but you'll see both in use. In French it's "carte a puce" which is roughly "card of a flea". Tiny integrated circuit chips look like fleas.

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