Smart Cards Are a Wise Choice

It’s like a scene out of a bad sitcom: 9 a.m., Monday and already John Doe can tell it’s going to be one of those days – or maybe one of those weeks.

In the past three hours, he’s managed to set off his burglar alarm accidentally, forget his subway tokens, get locked out of his office and forget his computer password. These days, there’s so much to remember, but security industry insiders know a solution to the problem is on the horizon: smart cards.

With existing and burgeoning technology, intrusion alarms can be armed, fares paid, doors opened and computers logged-on all with a simple wave of the hand. And if John Doe or his employer is one of your customers, offering smart card services is a way to make their lives easier and your bottom line higher.

Today, smart cards are used in real-world applications and have endless future applications, including a role in the movement toward open architecture. In that regard, there will be a huge demand for installers and integrators, who must educate the public and convince end users that a seemingly sci-fi technology is a smart move.

Types Vary, But the Contactless Card Remains Most Popular

For the most part, smart cards can be categorized by their interfaces. A contact card must be inserted into a reader with a direct connection to a chip on the card’s surface. The chip-reader contact transmits data, thus allowing, for example, a door to open or a burglar alarm to arm itself.

A contactless smart card, however, only requires a close proximity to a reader, which like the card, has an antenna that serves as a transmission medium. An electromagnetic signal powers most contactless cards, a method that yields a proximity range of 2 to 3 inches.
While many applications for contact cards still exist today, some industry insiders see contact cards as a thing of the past, and say developing contact smart card technology would be anachronistic.

A smart card’s stored data is protected by either of two types of encryption – secret or public key – which also ensures security between the card and the reader or writing unit. The stored data is encrypted, signed and locked onto the card by the issuing authority. The data is protected because the card prevents alterations to its memory by anyone who is not authenticated by the card issuer.

Today’s smart cards have 1 to 4 kilobytes of memory capability and typically operate at 13.56MHz, but cards operating on ultra high frequency (UHF), or 915MHz, are on the horizon.

Smart Technologies Have Many Applications, Especially in Access

Identification and access control purposes remain strongholds in smart card applications. Some ordinary companies combine smart cards with traditional magstripe cards for access and identification. For example, proximity cards used for access control can be embedded with a chip to enable network log-on security using an employee ID and security badge.

Some government facilities also use smart cards to keep their employees and visitors safe. Compass Technologies of Exton, Pa., recently supplied a smart card system for the New Jersey Treasury Department’s division of property management and construction, which includes about 60 buildings and 40,000 people throughout the state.

Current smart card use doesn’t end with corporations and government; hospitals are also popular venues for the technology. Reuben Vasquez, president and CEO of VerdaSEE Solutions in Langhorne, Pa., says providing smart card applications for the healthcare industry is one of his major markets. Vasquez uses smart cards in medical environments to grant access to rooms as well as track medication.

Tim DeWeese, president of Los Alamitos, Calif.-based Security Solutions, began using smart cards about three years ago. Although many applications include access, he says smart card use extends past the traditional “in-out” scheme. Security Solutions has provided conventions and tradeshows with smart cards to track attendees who visit each booth.

Despite a high turnover, schools are also an appropriate setting for smart card applications, Mike Shields, CEO of Minneapolis-based Identisys, an access and identification integration company, says. Smart cards are good for providing access in a large building where wiring would be difficult, and also incorporating other services like laundry and vending machines.

Integrators Can Take Advantage of Current, Future Applications

Smart technology is taking off quickly manufacturers say, but there is still time for integrators to incorporate it into their services. When the demand is high, there is money to be made. Northern Apex, a security installation company from Huntertown, Ind., has offered smart card services for more than six years. “[Smart cards] are absolutely profitable,” Project Manager Rick Raber says.

While the money is there, end users might not be familiar with such a new technology. Installers and integrators play an important role in educating potential smart-card users.

One method is to explain the benefits of smart cards: Information stored on the card’s tamper-resistant chip can be protected through a PIN code or biometric template. Also, they’ve earned their title: These cards are simply smarter than proximity or magstripe cards. They can process information rather than merely store it and card information or applications can be changed without issuing a new card. Another benefit is their convenience and ease of use. No bigger than a credit card, smart cards are compact and simple to use.

Marketing Manager Paul Chandler of Chatsworth, Calif.-based Secura Key, an access control and RFID product manufacturer, likens it to buying a computer. Instead of buying a machine that meets current needs, only to find six months later it can’t run new software, most buy a computer that goes beyond current needs but is not necessarily the best on the market.

In other words, traditional proximity cards and readers solve today’s problems, but in a few years, they’ll be unable to incorporate new features without creating an entirely new system.

Smart Programming, Installation, Pricing Are Comparable to Prox

DeWeese maintains programming and installation is nothing different from that of proximity systems, but warns installations incorporating multiple readers can grow complicated.

Another misconception is that smart cards are expensive. While Shields says magstripe cards are certainly less costly, the good news is that manufacturers agree proximity and smart card prices are surprisingly similar. Applications Product Manager Mike Clemens of Lancaster, Pa.-based IDenticard, a producer of biometric security identification and access control systems, estimates a standard proximity card’s cost between $3.50 and $3.75; a basic smart card might cost $3.75.

More sophisticated cards increase in price, but the differences remains negligible, integrators say. Readers and special printers that create custom graphics on the card can hike up the installation’s price, but, for the most part, prices remain comparable.

Cards Play Role in Smart Transition Toward Open Architecture

In addition to the many specific applications for smart cards, the technology is playing a key role in the move toward open architecture.

International Organization for Standardization (ISO) smart card standards are paving the way for the amalgamation of various products. Open architecture and interoperability keep end users and installers from becoming beholden to one manufacturer.

Vasquez maintains standards for 13.56MHz are moving along smoothly, but those for higher frequency smart cards have stalled.

Infrastructure, Cost Concerns Keep Technology From Mainstream

But if the current applications are practical and future applications just around the corner, why hasn’t a technology that<

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