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Monday, October 22, 2001
On Hardware

Smart fellows with smart cards in e-wallets
Vandana Paul

YOU must be aware of e-commerce, e-business, e-shopping and e-banking. Ever heard about an e-wallet? Well, this is one of the latest things to hit the Information Technology market and the consumer world. E-wallets are so called because they carry smart card in them. Smart card is identical to an ATM card, debit card and credit card. The only additional feature in this 3" by 1.5" plastic card is an embedded silicon chip of 1 sq. cm. This size is determined by the international standards (ISO 7810). The microprocessor or memory chip on it stores electronic data and programs that are protected by advanced security features. Smart cards have 10K-15K of memory that can hold information from your personal profile to the details of the driving license, passport, ration card, voter ID and much more.

The microprocessor can add, delete and modify information in its memory on the card. This card works like a miniature computer that has an input or output port operating system and hard disk with built-in security features. Once the required information is fed into the memory, you can use it by inserting it in a smart card reader. Unlike ATM and credit cards that have magnetic strip at the back which holds data, smart cards have a small gold plate about Ĺ" in diameter in the front. When the card is inserted into the smart card reader, it makes contacts with electrical connectors that transfer data to and from the chip.


There are a number of companies that are making smart cards, Gemplus, Visa, Schlumberger, to name a few. All these companies have different security and other characteristic features. They work on varied operating systems like Java and Windows CE.

A number of standards have also been defined for specific applications, including digital cell phones, credit card functions (Europay, Mastercard, Visa) and electronic purses (Visacash, Mondex, Proton). The implementation of Java on smart cards is also the subject of ongoing standardisation work (Javacard versions 1 and 2). But there are no global standards set for smart cards hence they cannot be operated in different locations and countries.

Smart cards provide data portability, convenience and most importantly security. This has been possible with a old and simple scientific concept of human recognition- Biometrics. In technical terms, biometrics is the automated technique of measuring a physical or behavioural characteristic of an individual and then comparing it with one that has been previously stored to determine if the characteristics are similar enough to confirm identity. Say, for example, a person can be reliably identified by his or her hand, fingerprints, retina of the eye or iris scanning and sound of the voice. Soon it will be possible to authorise the use of electronic information in smart cards using a spoken word or the touch of a hand too!

Chandigarh administration is looking forward to implementing smart cards in place of regular driverís license, which is easily stolen and tampered with.

Smart cards are a relatively new technology that has already affected the everyday life of millions of persons abroad and now in India. This is just the beginning and will ultimately change the way we shop, visit the doctor, use the telephone, use the election ID card, use our income tax PAN, our passport and enjoy life. A $3- $5 card will benefit every individual and increase the quality of life.

Today we need an enormous amount of information at office, in schools, at home... Computers give us the means to process this information and smart cards give us a way of handling and controlling this information with a unique identity that no one can steal.