smart card cutaway

Do Your Homework before Moving to Smart Cards

Protus3 Security Product Evaluations, Security Schematic Design, Security System Concept Development, Security System Design Development


smart card cutawayFirst, let’s talk about the cards. There are a number of different types and uses for smart card technology.

One of the most common is that of a banking-type card where the actual chip is visible. Think about your new debit card. When used, the chip makes contact within the device reading the information. This is a contact type card. It is very secure in comparison to the magnetic stripe on the back of those same cards. (My guess is that mag-stipes will go away in the future, but that’s another conversation.)

Another is a contactless smart card. It still utilizes a chip, however it is embedded within the card and not seen. In this article, we are going to focus on the contactless cards used for security and other functions.

When moving to smart card technology, do your homework prior to settling on a certain credential.

Recently we were with a client who thought that the smart card for their new security management system could accomadate multiple applications – including access control, vending, library, secure printing, parking, and other services. Actually, it did not have all those capabilities.

Smart cards contain sectors (think of them as file folders) and memory. The more of both you have, the more applications you can add to the card. This particular client did not have enough of either to use on all of the applications for which they wanted to use these cards.

In addition, the cards and access control readers at this particular site were not by the same manufacturer. Even though they were told that the cards would work by reading the “secure sector” of the card, they really didn’t. The access control system was only capable of reading the card serial number (CSN). Most access control systems can read this unique number associated with each card. Using the CSN basically bypasses the security of the card.

When deciding to make the move to smart card technology for your security applications, be sure to meet with all of the possible stakeholders to determine exactly what applications you will use with the card. Once you determine that information, share it with your electronic security provider to determine the right card for you. Verify that at a minimum your access control system will read the access control smart card sector of the card and not the card serial number. We would also recommend that you talk directly to a manufacturer of smart cards and readers. These folks are extremely knowledgeable and can be very helpful.

As always, Protus3 is available to assist you with this process.


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Protus3 specializes in security system design, security consulting, corporate investigations and other investigative services. Partner with Protus3 and we will examine each situation to identify threats and develop solutions for your best outcome.

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