A smart card, typically a type of chip card, is a plastic card that contains an embedded computer chip–either a memory or microprocessor type–that stores and transacts data. This data is usually associated with either value, information, or both and is stored and processed within the card's chip. The card data is transacted via a reader that is part of a computing system. Systems that are enhanced with smart cards are in use today throughout several key applications, including healthcare, banking, entertainment, and transportation. All applications can benefit from the added features and security that smart cards provide.
Smart cards improve the convenience and security of any transaction. They provide tamper-proof storage of user and account identity. Smart card systems have proven to be more reliable than other machine-readable cards, like magnetic stripe and barcode, with many studies showing card read life and reader life improvements demonstrating much lower cost of system maintenance. Smart cards also provide vital components of system security for the exchange of data throughout virtually any type of network. They protect against a full range of security threats, from careless storage of user passwords to sophisticated system hacks. The costs to manage password resets for an organization or enterprise are very high, thus making smart cards a cost-effective solution in these environments.
Mostly all chip cards are built from layers of differing materials, or substrates, that when brought together properly gives the card a specific life and functionality. The typical card today is made from PVC, Polyester or Polycarbonate. The card layers are printed first and then laminated in a large press. The next step in construction is the blanking or die cutting. This is followed by embedding a chip and then adding data to the card. In all, there may be up to 30 steps in constructing a card. The total components, including software and plastics, may be as many as 12 separate items; all this in a unified package that appears to the user as a simple device.