Smart Cards

A smart card is really dumb looking. It is no bigger than a credit card and is carried around like one. Smart cards work just like ATM cards; you slide the card into a slot, and then you are prompted for a personal identification number (PIN).

The smart card contains a smart chip that is wafer-thin and embedded in the card. The chip holds a digital certificate, the user's private key, and a load of other information that can be used for Single Sign-On, e-commerce, access control, and data protection and privacy, such as securing e-mail and Web access.

The more modern form of a smart card is not really a card at all; it's more like a plug or a dongle. Thanks to USB technology, the dongle plugs into the USB port of your workstation or server. The chip is installed inside the casing of the plug. These USB devices are easier to carry around, and typically allow for more data storage than the older credit-card-type smart cards.

To install smart card technology, you must have a public key infrastructure established. You must also install smart card readers, which can be a little expensive, but capitalized over many users, it will pay for itself in TCO and security.

Note For further information on smart cards and Windows 2003, see the Smart Card White Paper

"Smart Cards" at RSA Laboratories at is also a good starting point for smart card research.

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