Keep smartcards stupid

Thursday, 19 December 2002, 2:27 PM EST

Neil Barrett writes: "For as long as I can recall - and I once worked for a major smartcard company - next year has always been 'the year that smartcards finally make it'.

In a sense, of course, they have already made it. My bank and credit cards have embedded chips alongside the magnetic stripes. But generally, those chips are not used at all or are used as simple memory devices: the capability of the card as a processing unit is not yet fully exploited.

And that is a great shame, because smartcards are among the most secure devices available to us.

The most obvious use is as a secure container for encryption keys in digital signatures. Containers stored on PCs can be attacked in a variety of ways, including keyboard sniffers delivered by viruses or Trojan programs. By capturing the pass-phrase used to open the PC-stored secure container, the mechanism's integrity is breached. Then impostors can subvert the identity of users, and may be able to steal money and access protected data."

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