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01.25.2004
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
What is a “Smart Card?”

With more and more programming becoming pay per view, managing assets at the consumer level has become increasingly important to driving business, especially among cable and satellite TV operators. Smart Card technology has become the universal term for an Integrated Circuit Card (ICC) that includes a magnetic stripe used to store and transmit payment data to a service provider and a financial institution (like a credit card company). Providing convenience and security, users are able to order pay-per-view movies and live events at their leisure through the TV remote control. Service providers use them to control access to copyrighted material and can easily obtain the information on these cards via a telephone line or computer connection.

Integrated Circuit Cards come in two forms: Contact and contactless. The former is easy to identify because of its gold connector plate. Although the ISO Standard (7816-2) has defined eight contacts, only six are actually used to communicate with the outside world. The Contactless card may contain its own battery, particularly in the case of a “Super Smart Card” which has an integrated keyboard and LCD display.

The Contact Card is the most commonly used ICC because of its use in Europe as a telephone prepayment card. Most Contact Cards contain a simple integrated circuit although there have been various experiments using two chips. The chip itself varies considerably between different manufacturers and for a wide range applications.

The fundamental component of the IC is a memory module. The more commonly used memory types include: ROM, or “Read only” memory; PROM, for “Programmable read only memory”; EPROM, for “Erasable programmable ROM”; EEPROM, for “Electrically erasable PROM” and RAM, for “Random access memory.”

The ICC is the most secure form that video and telephone service providers have supported to date because unlike most electronic storage and processing devices it has security intrinsically built-in.

Several large media companies have begun using versions of the ICC to provide their employees with access to secure material. The technology is not without its drawbacks, as numerous court cases have seen companies like DIRECTV suing consumers for illegally receiving programs without authorization.

Over the past few years, the satellite TV provider has sent hundreds of thousands of letters and filed nearly 19,000 federal lawsuits in response to the mere purchase of smart card readers, emulators, unloopers, reprogrammers, bootloaders, and blockers, according to the advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation.

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