Smart Card Rant

Smart Card Rant:  For those who are not working with or in our Federal Government, you may be confused as to why there is a huge buzz over "smart cards" and why you are not seeing much of it being deployed around your organization. The first reason is that smart cards do not offer increased functionality over what you are currently able to get from using an industry standard RFID badge. An RFID badge's sole function is to securely broadcast a unique value once it is in range of a compatible badge reader. To be fair, the smart cards primary rebuttal here is if a "Jame Bond" level intruder was wanting to break the RFID badge's code, 007's in-house scientist "Q" could create a high tech portable device to remotely skim (read at distance) the badge as it is being read in a reader and then replay the skim back at the reader to gain entrance. This is a "real world" possibility. However, after being involved with badge technology for 25 years, I have never come across any documented RFID breaches in the "real world". If this possibility is a concern to your organization, then contact an eXpress badging specialist and let's discuss your smart cards options and budget.  A smart card is designed to be a read/write media and offers security of stored information. The highest level of encryption security requires the smart card to be inserted into a reader and then trapped so it can be authenticated. This takes more time and effort. This ergonomic flaw is huge and takes the industry back several decades. RFID smart cards or better known as "contactless" smart cards have the same vulnerabilities as standard RFID badges, as they can be skimmed. The demand in our private sector is not large enough for highly secure badges that require read/write functionality, other than some point of sale programs. For most organizations that are not protecting national security or vast fortunes in currency and intellectual property, standard RFID badge technology is just fine. Let's give an honorable mention here to the great value received from using magnetic stripes and bar codes. They are not dead technologies! A properly configured magnetic stripe badge offers a very high level of security, not to mention at a drastically lower price point than both smart card or RFID. The second reason smart cards are not as common place as the other technologies is their interoperability. There are standards like ISO 14443A/B, HSPD12, PIV and FIPS. However, most are United States federal government driven and are operating in a world that is foreign to the profit focused private sector. Even within a single smart card manufacturer, keeping up with smart chip and reader firmware interoperability issues are not only scientific, but hard to manage. One only has to look at our Nation's CAC (Common Access Card) and TWIC (Transportation Workers ID Card) card programs that have been around for many years and they are no more closer to being interoperable than when they started. In other words, once a new version of a smart card is released from one manufacturer, and there are many, they can not just be enrolled in a compliant system and then enabled without some costly and complicated system upgrades.  There is a place for smart cards, however currently smart cards are not a standard in ID badge reader technology for those who manufacturer time and attendance, door access systems and campus POS. Many say they can work with them. However, very few of them can use the power of the smart chip to add value to their system. Unless you are one to be on the bleeding edge of technology, one that has been bleeding for more than a decade, smart cards are not the badge technology of choice for the common door access, time and attendance, tracking and campus or "closed model" point of sales projects. End of rant! Author:  Joe French


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