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Smart Cards

A smart card is an object about the size of a plastic credit card that contains a processor, memory, and an interface to the outside world. The term is sometimes used to include PCMCIA devices with similar properties, and the cards that are exactly the size of plastic credit cards are sometimes called chip cards. Smart cards are being used for an increasingly large set of applications, including payment. We make a distinction between smart cards and the kind of handheld authentication tokens described in Chapter 14: smart cards provide at least data storage and often some computation based on that data, rather than the (relatively simple) authentication computations used by tokens.

In practice, there is a wide range of smarts on cards. The differences come in the performance and capabilities of the processor, the amounts of RAM and ROM, the speed of the interface to the world, the availability of specialized components for cryptographic operations, and whether or not they can be programmed for different applications. Different applications require different kinds of operations, so it is often important to speak precisely about the application and the kind of card used.


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