Identifying the nation - smartly

March/April 2000 Access Control & Identity Management

The concept of a national ID smartcard may have seemed futuristic a few years ago. This is no longer the case as the government recently announced that a smart ID is on the cards for 2001. This hi-tech way of establishing the identity of the cardholder has many advantages not the least of which include increased efficiency, reduced fraud and genuine authentication.

"A smart ID is not as high-tech as some people believe, a smartcard is merely a more secure and more intelligent way of storing and processing information," says Stirling McBride, Product Manager at Integrated Card Technology (ICT).

"A smartcard is the size of a standard credit or ATM card, instead of a magnetic stripe which can only store a minimal amount of information, the smartcard contains a memory or microprocessor chip which stores, manages and processes larger amounts of data. The built-in logic provided by smartcard microprocessors allows them to play an active role in ensuring security in a way that magnetic stripes cannot. The card is made of durable PVC that is fully tested in terms of ISO standards prior to issue. Data retention on the chip is guaranteed for 10 years unlike a magnetic stripe card while a minimum of 10 000 read/write cycles can be undertaken," says McBride.

Embedded intelligence

"The smartcard has the memory capacity as well as the intelligence to hold multiple applications. This means that within the smart ID, the card's primary function would be to authenticate the card holder but could also be used as a drivers license, a banking (e-purse) card, a healthcare card and could have a range of applications added on to it at a later stage."

"The very nature of the smartcard makes it the ideal identity card as it is equipped to positively identify its authorised bearer on each occasion. Using a secret PIN or biological feature of the person introduces a process of verifying that the cardholder is the user or entity that is designated to use the card. In addition, the number of security features on the smartcard ensures that the card cannot be counterfeited (through sophisticated cryptographic card authentication methods)," he says.

"This will greatly assist all institutions, including government, who rely on positive cardholder identification to eliminate fraud and theft. South African banks alone recently reported a R4-billion loss to fraud, by using the smart ID's authentication function for individual bank customers the cost to banks will be dramatically reduced in future."

Illegal immigrants

"As well as for institutions, the smart ID will help identify illegal immigrants. The few million people that are currently living in this country illegally will not be able under normal circumstances to obtain a smart ID card, thereby making the control of illegal immigrants considerably easier for the authorities. In addition the cost and skill required to forge smart ID technology will make it almost impossible to produce a fraudulent card," he adds.

"With all this personal information available on a chip, card holders may well be concerned about the security of the information contained on the card. Smartcards allow for the introduction of security attributes for the reading or writing of data. A memory zone may be secret (the data is used for card internal management purposes only), public or sensitive.

"If sensitive, information will only be accessible after the presentation of a correct personal feature of the user. This, in almost all cases, is the PIN or a biometric feature," explains McBride. "In addition sensitive information could also be stored (encrypted) if required by the authorities.

"ICT's German shareholding companies Giesecke & Devrient (G&D) and ORGA, have been and are currently involved in a number of national ID, e-purse and drivers license projects worldwide. ICT is therefore able to offer both the technology and expertise required in the development of the smart ID, as well as the manufacturing capabilities to produce the card itself," says McBride.

For details contact Integrated Card Technology on tel: (011)608 1803.

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