Smart cards are becoming an increasingly important part of our lives. As we place greater trust in them, both issuers and users need to be assured of the cards' reliability. Although standards exist, tests are needed to prove that these standards are met. As some current checks are irrelevant to today's systems, the TIGRIS project team critically evaluated previous tests and suggested complementary methods. Emulators that mimic real life cards, and their interfaces, underline the practical value of the new methods suggested by TIGRIS partners.
In today's hi-tech world, Integrated Circuit-card (ICC) technology is moving ahead at a rapid pace. Most Europeans will have at least one card that allows them to access their financial holdings, lets them into their hotel room, stores cash or holds their personal information. These cards are truly ubiquitous; they find applications in all sectors from telecommunications and finance to health and transport. And if the pundits are correct, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Increasingly, we talk about the "global village." The united fronts of telecommunications and informatics are making this a reality. As a unit of this integrated world, smart cards must conform to exacting standards that are equally respected and applied around the world. Such cards are presently defined by both international and European standards, and are one of the success stories of standardisation. Certain sectors and applications exact even more stringent performance requirements. But having standards is not nearly enough. All aspects of the standards must be tested to ensure that they do, in fact, produce cards that make the grade. As society increases its reliance on and trust in cards, this testing will become even more important.
The TIGRIS project arose from these concerns. Although the partners had a history of collaboration, the European Commission provided the means for them to join forces to research what is traditionally an unfashionable, though crucial, field of science: standards testing. Working together in a consortium allowed them to pool their individual skills and this certainly benefited the project as a whole.
Although two test method standards did exist at the time, the TIGRIS team questioned the rationale behind existing expensive tests. The project also proposed some alternatives that deal with the practicalities of using card systems today and in the future. Finally, they evaluated the compatibility relationship between cards and their terminals.
Three existing tests were critically evaluated. An extensive collection of sample cards formed the raw material on which to base the assessment. These methods, using X-rays, electromagnetic fields and vibrations were too expensive and brought no new information.
Armed with six new practical tests, aspects of card use pertinent to the actual wear and tear of IC-Cards systems could be checked. These include such characteristics as abrasion, damage from terminal rollers, impact resistance, contact deactivation during the accidental removal of the card and vibration between card and interface as well as electromagnetic compatibility.
Two sides to every story
Designing new tests is all well and good but to see their true worth emulators are needed. These mimic real-life scenarios. But to be really representative they need both card and terminal. Either the terminal or the card alone is of little use. This called for a standard language that both sides could use: as with humans, speaking the same tongue makes communication simpler and lets the value or futility of the tests cry out. As an added bonus, backing up the tests with real data provides a firm basis with which to present the case for new tests to the standards bodies.
Through direct participation of the partners within standardisation bodies, the intermediate results greatly assist and contribute to the decision-making process. Presenting the final results of the test methodologies and tools yields a wealth of valuable and practical information on which to base the standards.
As the pace of technology quickens, standards need to be dynamic and keep abreast of innovations. They will either be modified or replaced. To rise to this challenge, testing tools and methods will have to be adaptive. These will build on previous work while also embracing new developments. Examples include magnetic cards with High Coercitivity Stripes. Essentially, these are cards whose data will be less affected by magnetism than earlier versions - the data clings to the stripe and is less vulnerable to its accidental deletion in proximity to other magnets.
The winning hand
But the success does not stop there. The nuggets of valuable experience gleaned from this project are of immense commercial worth: testing centres will use the tools and methods developed in this project to test conformity to standards; new services will complement and extend existing services. Who will benefit from this? Everyone, from card supplier to customer, both public and private, from terminal manufacturer to user. They all need to know that their cards and the interfaces work, and work well.
As for the partners, they will have gained in knowledge of how best to improve their products, on one hand and the ability to test them on the other. And what about the longer term? With electronic commerce earmarked in the Fifth Framework Programme, cards and their tests will soon come to the fore.