How does the Smart Card Works?

The first smart card like Télécarte was launched in the year 1983. It is a telephone card used for payments within French payphones. At present, Smart cards are everywhere & they have replaced by magnetic stripe card technology, which has 300 bytes of non-rewritable memory capacity. This card includes an embedded ICC (integrated circuit chip) namely a secure microcontroller. The connection of this card can be done with a smart card reader through direct physical contact otherwise a contactless radio frequency interface. These cards store a large amount of data because of the embedded microcontroller and communicate with a smart card reader. This technology obeys the rules of international standards like ISO/IEC 7816 & ISO/IEC 14443, so it is accessible in different form factors like fobs, plastic cards, SIM card (subscriber identity modules) employed in GSM mobile phones & tokens based on USB.

What is a Smart Card?

It is a special type of card-like device which contains an integrated circuit chip embedded in it. The IC chip can be a microprocessor with memory or just a simple memory circuit. In simple layman’s words, a smart card is a card with which we can exchange data, store it and manipulate data.

Smart Card
Smart Card

The size and shape of this is a tiny rectangular piece of card. These cards are very convenient to use in our wallets otherwise back pockets. These cards are mainly used in banks, educational institutions, shops, offices to perform different transactions. Thus, these cards are accessible in different forms & sizes. These cards have allowed the safety as well as convenience of any transactions. The technology used in these cards will help the users to store personal details.

These cards will vary based on the following dimensions

Memory: Its memory ranges from 1 to 16 kb

Processor Speed: The processor speed ranges from 4-16 MHz;


Interaction: Physical contact, proximity & radio;

Software: The software used in the is a ‘card operating system‘ & installed applications.


The examples of smart cards include the following.

  • The payment cards like debit cards and credit cards are issued by banks as well as commercial organizations.
  • In Hospitals, these cards are used to store the details of patients.
  • Electronic benefits transfer or EBT cards are mainly used for the allotment of government benefits.
  • These are mainly used for access control in government authorities, educational institutions, etc

How does the Smart Card Works?

It is connected to the host computer or controller via a card reader which gets information from the card and accordingly passes the information to the host computer or controller.

It is used to control the data accessing & data manipulation. Usually, it is a plastic card included with an integrated circuit. This smart card is fabricated with either a memory chip otherwise a microprocessor to store the data and to connect with the system.

Smart Card Working Process

A smart card does not function alone and it requires a smart card reader to work properly. This card includes an embedded memory chip that includes a contact pad. When the contact pad is detached from the smart card then it is no longer smart.

In this card reader, the contact pad approaches in contact through the card reader & carries out the processing. Therefore it helps you in transactions through the point of sale (POS) otherwise another medium to perform transactions. But, there are two kinds of cards like contact as well as contactless cards. The utilization of contactless cards is being enhanced quickly because of their convenience to use.

The working process of this mainly includes the following steps.

  • It is placed into the card reader to read the data from the card.
  • Once the card reader reads the data from the card, then it passes the data toward the payment system otherwise authentication system
  • After that, the payment system otherwise an authentication system authenticates the operator whether the information provided by the card matches through the database.
  • Finally, the payment system otherwise the authentication system does the necessary task.

What is a Smart Card Reader?

A smart card reader is a device to which the card is connected either directly or indirectly using RF communication. It interfaces with the PC or a microcontroller using the USB port or RS232 serial ports. It can be a contact or contactless reader.

Smart Card Reader
Smart Card Reader

Types of Smart Cards

The types of smart cards based on connection to the card Reader include the following.

Contact Smart Card

This type of smart card consists of electrical contacts which are used to connect to the card reader where the card is inserted. The electrical contacts are deployed on a conductive gold plated coating on the card surface.

Contactless Smart Card

This type of smart card communicates with the reader without any physical contact. Rather it consists of an antenna with which it is used to communicate using a Radio Frequency band with the antenna on the reader. It usually receives power from the reader via an electromagnetic signal.

Types of Smart Cards based on their Functionalities and Configuration include the following.

Memory Cards

These are cards that only consist of memory circuits. It can only store, read and write data to a particular location. The data cannot be processed or manipulated. It can be a straight memory card that is only used to store data or a protected memory card with restricted access to the memory and which can be used to write data. It can also be rechargeable or a disposable card which contains memory units that can be used only once.

Microprocessor-Based Cards

These cards consist of a microprocessor embedded onto the chip in addition to the memory blocks. It also consists of specific sections of files with each file associated with a particular function. The data in files and the memory allocation is managed via an operating system which can be a fixed operating system or dynamic operating system. It allows for data processing and manipulations and can be used for multi-functioning.

Dual-interface Cards

The dual interface smart card is designed with both the interfaces of contact & contact. This kind of card allows safe access to the chip of the card with either the contactless otherwise contact interfaces of the smart card.

Hybrid Smart Card

A hybrid type is designed with both microprocessor & memory. Two dissimilar chips are used for different applications which are connected to a single smart card depending on the functionality because the proximity chip is used to give physical access in prohibited regions whereas the contact chip is used for a sign within authentication.

Hybrid cars have a dual capacity which can work both on card readers of contact and contactless. These types of cards are not frequently used.


Generally, the architecture of a smart card includes three elements like the following.

  • I/O System
  • CPU or Central Processing Unit
  • Memory

I/O System

The smart card includes specific components to execute the functions of input/output. It includes an internal logic circuit to work in combination with the microprocessor for controlling the timing as well as data flow that is transferred into the memory of the card. The physical structure of this card can easily interface to a card reader and it is connected to host computers to exchange the data.

The groups of physical interfaces mainly depend on the kind of cards such as the contactless and the contact type. Smart-Card contact interface can be a contact pad under which lies a chip & the contactless smart card interface mainly includes a chip & an antenna to converse through radio waves.

CPU (Central Processing Unit )

The microprocessor otherwise a CPU is the component that differentiates the smart cards from other types of cards that are mainly used to store the data. The microprocessor is in connection through the operating system that allows the smart-card to make its own choices regarding where the information is stored within memories & under what conditions it must transfer data through its I/O interface. The microprocessor includes three main components such as ALU (arithmetic logic unit), the control unit & the bus.


The memories which are employed in these cards are mainly manufactured by using semiconductor materials. These memories include matrices of cells that are formed through transistors to store the data. The semiconductor memories which are used in these cards are three types which include the following.

  • ROM (Read Only Memory)
  • RAM (Random Access Memory)
  • EEPROM (Electrically Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory)

Smart-Card Features

cards embedded with integrated circuits that can process data and provides a number of features like the following.

  • Authentication
  • Personal device
  • Secure data storage.
  • Biometrics
  • Encryption
  • Secure communications
  • Strong Device Security

4 Steps to Construct a Smart Card

The designing steps of the smart cards include the following.

  • The first step involves designing. The designing involves specifying the chip for the memory size, clock speed, volatile memory types, type of operating system and specifying the application software, specifying the card type, size and functioning, and additional features.
  • The second step involves chip fabrication. This involves mounting the silicon chip on an epoxy glass substrate with gold plated connectors, using a die. The silicon chip is bonded to the connectors using connecting wires (wire bonding technique) or using flip-chip technology (using a solder). The chip on board substrate is then sealed using epoxy resin and glued to the card substrate. The card substrate can be a PVC-based plastic card or a Polyester-based card.
  • The third step involves loading the code to the memory using special commands.
  • The fourth step involves data loading into the PROM memory such that the data pertains to a single person.

What is a Smart Card for Laptop?

At present, there are many laptops that are available through a SmartCard reader slot. So, this card is placed into a laptop in order to login by entering a username or password so that the laptop can be protected from the attacks of single-factor authentication like attacks based on passwords like weak passwords, keylogger & leaked passwords & you defend against smartcards or stolen keys.


The advantages of a smart card include the following.

  • More Secure
  • Adaptable
  • Administration & Control over cash expenditure.
  • Less Weight
  • Privacy
  • Portable
  • Particular standards ISO 7811, 7810, 10536, 9992,
  • Worldwide Acceptance
  • online
  • 100% Efficient Theft-proof.
  • Persistent and Protected Storage
  • Smart card users can purchase & pay through
  • Processing power
  • Very Comfort for User
  • Packaging
  • Simple to Use
  • High Memory
  • Information Security
  • High Range of Security
  • Upper Management Information
  • Reduced Scam
  • Consistency
  • Organized Data
  • Might be promptly reconfigured
  • Reusable
  • Secure transactions
  • Gives more security
  • More tough and dependable
  • Permit numerous provisions to be saved in one card


The disadvantages of the smart cards include the following.

  • These are small and less weight
  • Bank fees linked with a credit card.
  • Information cannot be retrieved from the stolen card
  • It needs a smart card reader
  • It should be recharged
  • It can be damaged by fluids
  • Production cost is enhanced
  • It uses electrical energy to operate

Smart Card Applications

The applications of the smart cards include the following.


The most prominent use of smart card technology is in the development of SIM cards or Subscriber Identity Module. A SIM card provides unique identification to each subscriber and provides network access to each subscriber and manages its authentication.


The most frequently used smart card in the domestic field is the DTH smart card. This card provides authorized access to the information coming from the satellites. In simple words, the card with which we can get access to the Direct to Home TV services is nothing but a smart card. The information is encrypted and decrypted within a smart card.

Ecommerce and Retail

This can be used to store information like a person’s account details, the transaction details and can be used in purchasing goods online by acting as a credit card. Some retailers can also use these cards to store points for a particular customer and provide necessary incentives to repeated customers.

Banking Application

The most prominent use of these cards in banking applications is the replacement of the traditional magnetic stripe-based credit or debit card. An example is the MasterCard and VISA.

Government Applications

Smart cards are being used by Government to issue identity cards to individuals, which contains all the details of the individual. An example is the recently started Adhar card scheme in India.

Secured Physical access

Smart cards can be used by Organizations or differed public areas to provide authorized access to the employees (members of the organization) or other persons to the secured areas. The smart card generally contains identity details of the individual which is scanned and checked.

A Working Application of a Smart Card System to Provide Authorized Access to Secured Areas

As seen, one of the prominent applications of a smart card is storing the identity of an individual. When the person tries to enter a secured area, the data in his/her smart card is checked with the available data in the database and if matched, the person is allowed access, else not.

The system consists of 4 main parts:

  • It is generally a contact memory card that contains information about the individual.
  • A smart card reader is generally a contact smart card reader and is used to read information from the card.
  • A controller which receives data from the smart card reader via the RS232 interface.
  • A load which is a relay, in this case, used to drive a motor and connected to the controller via the relay driver IC.

The Working of the System is as follows:

  • The individual inserts his/her card in the card reader.
  • The card reader sends the data to the MAX 232 IC through the DB9 connector.
  • The Microcontroller receives the data from the MAX 232 and is accordingly programmed to compare the obtained information with the stored information in the database.
  • If the data matches, the Microcontroller develops logic high at its output pin, connected to the input pin of the relay driver.
  • The relay driver IC accordingly develops a low logic at its output and energizes the relay.
  • The common contact of the relay is now connected to the normally open contact and the motor connected in series with the relay contacts is rotated such that the door is opened.
  • In case the data doesn’t match, the microcontroller is programmed to develop logic low at its output pin and the relay accordingly doesn’t get energized, keeping the door shut.
  • The obtained output is accordingly displayed on the LCD which shows whether the data is matched or not.

Thus, this is a basic overview of the smart card, architecture, working, design, types, advantages, disadvantages, and applications. Here is a question for you, what are the different smart cards available in the market?

Comments are closed.