The Ultimate Guide on USB Smart Card Readers

Smart card readers have witnessed a surge in prevalence due to the corresponding spike in smart card usage shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began. Contactless tap-and-pay cards were introduced in the pandemic's aftermath as viable alternatives to data processing in the healthcare, BFSI, and transportation sectors. Smart card readers go by various names such as card terminals, card acceptance devices (CAD), smart card programmers, and interface devices. Smart card readers that support ISO 15693, ISO 14443, and ISO 7816-3 protocols can be categorized under contact, contactless, and interface types. They ensure secure and streamlined communication between cards and their related network services. Thus, to better understand the growing applications of smart card readers, this blog will shed light on the usage of USB connections in particular as a subcategory of smart card readers.

What Is a Smart Card?

A smart card is available in plastic or metal, shaped similar to a driver's license, and contains an integrated chip to serve as a security token. They can be read by contact (aka the chip-and-dip method) or near-field communication methods, such as radio-frequency identification (RFID), and others. The embedded integrated chip (ICC) within smart cards can store vast amounts of data, along with other on-card processing functions such as encryption, authentication, and manipulation of stored data. In addition, smart cards are available in many tamper-resistant modules such as fobs, plastic cards, subscriber index modules (SIMs), etc.

A Brief History of the Smart Card Market

Robert Moreno patented the first memory card in 1974, and in 1977, SGS Thomson, Bull CP8, and Schlumberger started manufacturing smart cards on a commercial scale. Today, the smart card market is worth nearly 13.9 billion USD, with 50 billion smart cards in active circulation, according to a research report by MarketsAndMarkets. The report also predicts the industry's growth to a projected estimate of16.9 billion USD at a CAGR of 4% by 2026. In light of impressive growth forecasts, the smart card industry is categorized under geography (Latin America, Europe, North America, the Middle East & Africa, and the Asia Pacific) and end-user verticals (government, IT & telecommunications, BFSI, and transportation). Due to their increasing reliance on blockchain and other newly-emerging modes of information technology, Asia Pacific countries are expected to drive the growing demand for smart cards in the next decade. Some key smart card manufacturers are expected to be CPI Card Group, HID Global Corporation, Thales Group, and IDEMIA.

What Is a USB Smart Card Reader?

In the 1990s, USB connections were an improvement over earlier modes of data transfer in computers, removing the need for additional cables and screws. In addition, USB connections simplified peripheral connections to computers. USB smart card readers fall under "interface" type readers, and they work like a scanner for transferring electronically stored data from a smart card into a computer via a USB connection. Most USB smart card readers available today are easy to install and are compatible with several computer operating systems.
USB smart card connections are highly secure, versatile, and economical. Some USB smart card readers use a two-way authentication pathway for high-speed data transmission through biometric data recognition. Typical applications of such smart card readers include security authentication, digital signatures, and ISO/IEC 7816 applications such as cryptographic storage of contact information. Other applications also include e-banking, e-payments, and e-government services.

Chip Card Interface Device and USB Smart Card Readers

The Chip Card Interface Device (CCID) protocol is a standard USB protocol that enables the connection of a smart card to a computer using a USB interface. CCID protocols remove the requirement for individual smart card manufacturers to establish their respective protocols for the USB interface. Thus, CCID-enabled USB smart cards can be used for data encryption and security authentication across a variety of USB smart card readers. CCID devices are available in various forms, such as a standard USB dongle containing an SD or SIM card or a PC USB keyboard with a slot for additional SD cards. Some popular features of CCID-USB devices include their compatibility with both RTOS and non-RTOS-based systems, as well as HCC USB host controllers and pcsc-lite API functions.
When a CCID is connected to its host via a USB interface, it communicates with the host using CCID-specific messages. Such messages are composed of a 10-byte header and message-specific data. Meanwhile, the host may or may not have an ICC inserted, whereas the CCID is designed to assume that the host device is possibly ICC compatible. Therefore, a "slot change" interrupt message appears on one’s display screen when the ICC fails to connect with the host.

To Conclude

If you are looking for a USB smart card reader for your unique needs, then ASAP IT Technology is here to assist you in your pursuit. We are a proud member of the ASAP Semiconductor family of websites, and we bolster an online database of over 2 billion products where entities can easily streamline IT electronic parts, aerospace and defense components, and more. Moreover, our dedicated customer service team and Instant RFQ service ensure that you always experience a smooth buying experience with us. Submit your RFQ today, and a market representative will respond to your quote within 15 minutes or less, 24/7x365.


December 2, 2022
June 15, 2022

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