How do SmartCards work?

I am looking at buying a computer which has a ** SmartCard ** reader and I’d like to know how useful it might be to me and how easy it might be to use. I have never used or seen one used.

I am thinking that maybe I could have a smart card with some encryption keys and passwords so that inserting the card would be necessary in order to use the computer. Or something like that.

I see some cards have only memory while others have processing capacity.

I assume I’d have to buy my own cards. Easy? Cheap?

What software is available?

In other words, what are practical, real life uses?

I’m not sure how relevant this will be, but where we work we use thin clients with smart cards (on our badges.) I can go to any company site, around the world, stick in my smart card, give my password, and have my session right where I left it. My daughter’s college uses them to store money for the dining halls. We’ve been promised vending machines which would take our id badges, but I’m not holding my breath.

When I worked for Bell Labs I carried a prototype smart card around in my wallet for years, as part of reliability testing. It didn’t do anything. AT&T factories in the Netherlands in the early '90s used them to store both money and coffee machine preferences.

However, I don’t particularly see the utility of one for a standalone PC. I think there are some apps available to store your passwords on the smart card rather than in the browser application space, which might be handy if you switch between computers with smart card readers, but I think you wouldn’t want one that will work without any password.

The first think which comes to mind is to store encryption keys and certificates on the card and maybe passwords. Maybe pull the card and the computer goes into standby and you need the card to get back to work. A card is easy enough to pull and take with you while you are away from the computer.

I am sort of inclined to a distributed model where the computer only has the programs, data is on an encrypted external drive which can be locked up or taken with me and keys and passwords are on a smartcard or thumbdrive. That seems to be the safest.

Something like these?

CMC fnord!

In our model programs and data (and passwords) are locked behind professionally maintained firewalls in nice safe server rooms, all backed up. if someone swipes my desktop computer, they get nothing. If my desktop computer blows up, the inconvenience is less than my cellphone dying.

However, in the environment most people are in, I see the benefit of splitting up the pieces so it is unlikely that anyone being swiped will hurt security.

SmartCards are very popular in Europe, especially as phonecards. In the US the only widespread use I know of is in satellite set-top boxes for program access (i.e. descrambling).

I used to use one with a PC for the above media during my, ahem, misspent youth (early 2000’s)…

Everest reports the device as being O2Micro OZ776 USB CCID Smartcard Reader. I just wonder what cards might workd with it, what software is needed, etc. It seems some smartcards only have memory while others have some computing power.

I also see cell phone SIM cards are, in fact, Smartcards cut to smaller size. Maybe I could try gluing one back to the bigger card it came in. I have quite a few unused SIM cards and it would be good if I could use them for memory. I just have no idea what software is needed of how they would work. Anyone have any idea?