About Smart Cards : Introduction : Standards

Smart Card Standards and Specifications

A number of standards and specifications are relevant for smart card implementations, with some focused on industry-specific applications. A summary of the standards bodies and different smart card standards and specifications is presented below.

International Standards Organization (ISO)/International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) Standards

ISO/IEC is one of the worldwide standard-setting bodies for technology, including plastic cards. The primary standards for smart cards are ISO/IEC 7816, ISO/IEC 14443, ISO/IEC 15693 and ISO/IEC 7501.

  • ISO/IEC 7816 is a multi-part international standard broken into fourteen parts. ISO/IEC 7816 Parts 1, 2 and 3 deal only with contact smart cards and define the various aspects of the card and its interfaces, including the card’s physical dimensions, the electrical interface and the communications protocols. ISO/IEC 7816 Parts 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13 and 15 are relevant to all types of smart cards (contact as well as contactless). They define the card logical structure (files and data elements), various commands used by the application programming interface for basic use, application management, biometric verification, cryptographic services and application naming. ISO/IEC 7816 Part 10 is used by memory cards for applications such as pre-paid telephone cards or vending machines. ISO/IEC 7816 Part 7 defines a secure relational database approach for smart cards based on the SQL interfaces (SCQL).
  • ISO/IEC 14443 is an international standard that defines the interfaces to a “close proximity” contactless smart card, including the radio frequency (RF) interface, the electrical interface, and the communications and anti-collision protocols. ISO/IEC 14443 compliant cards operate at 13.56 MHz and have an operational range of up to 10 centimeters (3.94 inches). ISO/IEC 14443 is the primary contactless smart card standard being used for transit, financial, and access control applications. It is also used in electronic passports and in the FIPS 201 PIV card.
  • ISO/IEC 15693 describes standards for “vicinity” cards. Specifically, it establishes standards for the physical characteristics, radio frequency power and signal interface, and anticollision and transmission protocol for vicinity cards that operate to a maximum of 1 meter (approximately 3.3 feet).
  • ISO/IEC 7501 describes standards for machine-readable travel documents and has made a clear recommendation on smart card topology.

While not a smart card standard, the Near Field Communication (NFC) standard, ISO/IEC 18092, is an important contactless technology standard that is expected to be integrated into mobile phones and other devices.

  • ISO/IEC 18092 (also ECMA-340) defines communication modes for Near Field Communication Interface and Protocol (NFCIP-1) using inductive coupled devices operating at the center frequency of 13,56 MHz for interconnection of computer peripherals. ISO/IEC 18092 allows backward compatibility with existing contactless devices by supporting ISO/IEC 14443 Type A, and the Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) X 6319-4 (also known as FeliCa, see Section contactless interface protocols.
  • The NFC Forum defines NFC tag formats, data record formats, and other technical specifications to ensure interoperability among devices and services.

In addition, ISO/IEC 24727 is a multi-part standard aimed at achieving interoperability among various smart card systems. The goal is to provide the necessary interfaces and services to enable interoperability among divergent systems, with a particular focus on identification, authentication, and signature services, and removing the dependence on vendor specific implementations. ISO/IEC 24727 is a set of programming interfaces for interactions between integrated circuit cards (ICCs) and external applications, including generic services for multi-sector use. The organization and the operation of the ICC conform to ISO/IEC 7816-4.

Federal Information Processing Standard 201 – FIPS 201

As a result of Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 (HSPD-12), issued by President George W. Bush on August 27, 2004, NIST published Federal Information Processing Standard Publication 201 (FIPS 201), Personal Identity Verification (PIV) of Federal Employees and Contractors, on February 25, 2005. FIPS 201 provides the specifications for a standard Federal smart ID card, called the PIV card, that must be used for both physical and logical access and can be used for other applications as determined by individual agencies. The PIV card is a smart card with both contact and contactless interfaces. Government agencies are currently implementing FIPS 201-compliant systems.

T has also issued a number of special publications with additional specifications for PIV card implementations. Published specifications are available at https://csrc.nist.gov/publications/sp.

Other Federal Information Processing Standards (FIPS)

FIPS standards are developed by the Computer Security Division within NIST. FIPS standards are designed to protect Federal computer and telecommunications systems. The following FIPS standards apply to smart card technology and pertain to digital signature standards, advanced encryption standards, and security requirements for cryptographic modules.

Digital Signatures

  • FIPS 186-2 specifies a set of algorithms used to generate and verify digital signatures. This specification relates to three algorithms specifically, the Digital Signature Algorithm (DSA), the RSA digital signature algorithm, and the Elliptic Curve Digital Signature Algorithm (ECDSA) algorithm.
  • ANSI X9.31-1998 contains specifications for the RSA signature algorithm. The standard specifically covers both the manual and automated management of keying material using both asymmetric and symmetric key cryptography for the wholesale financial services industry.
  • ANSI X9.62-1998 contains specifications for the ECDSA signature algorithm.

Advanced Encryption Standards

  • FIPS 197: The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) specifies a FIPS-approved cryptographic algorithm that can be used to protect electronic data. The AES algorithm is a symmetric block cipher that can encrypt and decrypt information.

Security Requirements for Cryptographic Modules

  • FIPS 140: The security requirements contained in FIPS 140 (currently version 2) pertain to areas related to the secure design and implementation of a cryptographic module, specifically: cryptographic module specification; cryptographic module ports and interfaces; roles, services, and authentication; finite state model; physical security; operational environment; cryptographic key management; electromagnetic interference/electromagnetic compatibility (EMI/EMC); self-tests; design assurance; and mitigation of other attacks.

American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standards

ANSI recommends standards directed to the needs of the U.S. and supervises standards-making activities. It does not write or develop standards itself. Thus, in the U.S., any group that participates in ISO must first participate in ANSI. The International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) serves as ANSI’s Technical Advisory Group (TAG). Working groups within INCITS – such as B10 (Identification Cards and related devices), T6 (Radio Frequency Identification Technology) and M1 (biometrics) contribute directly to ISO groups (for example, the ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1/Subcommittee 17 (JTC 1/SC 17)).


GlobalPlatform (GP) is an international, non-profit association. GlobalPlatform protects digital services by standardizing and certifying a security hardware/firmware combination, known as a secure component, which acts as an on-device trust anchor. This facilitates collaboration between service providers and device manufacturers, empowering them to ensure the right level of security within all devices to protect against threats.  GlobalPlatform specifications also standardize the secure management of digital services and devices once deployed in the field.

Common Criteria

Common Criteria (CC) is an internationally approved security evaluation framework providing a clear and reliable evaluation of the security capabilities of IT products, including secure ICs, smart card operating systems, and application software. CC provides an independent assessment of a product’s ability to meet security standards, with the goal of giving customers confidence in the security of IT products and leading to better decisions about security. Security-conscious customers, such as national governments, are increasingly requiring CC certification in making purchasing decisions. Since the requirements for certification are clearly established, vendors can target very specific security needs while providing broad product offerings. CC has been adopted and is recognized by 14 countries.

International Civil Aviation Organization

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is responsible for issuing guidance on the standardization and specifications for Machine Readable Travel Documents (MRTD) – i.e., passports, visas, and travel documents. ICAO published the specification for electronic passports that uses a contactless smart chip in the passport to securely store information on the passport holder’s data page.

International Airline and Transportation Association (IATA)

The IATA develops standards for recommendation to the airline and transportation industry. IATA has formed a task force to develop interoperability standards for smart card-based ticketless travel. Its mission is to ensure easy and convenient negotiation of electronic airline tickets.

G-8 Health Standards

The G-8 countries have come together to develop a standard format for populating data on a health card. This standard attempts to create interoperability across health cards from the G-8 countries. It addresses file formats, data placement on the card, and use of digital certificates in health care.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996 (Public Law 104-191)

This law states that the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) is to adopt national standards for implementing a secure electronic health transaction system. Examples of these transactions include: claims, enrollment, eligibility, payment, and coordination of benefits. The goal of HIPAA is to create a secure, cost-effective means for individuals to efficiently accomplish electronic health care transactions. HHS has designated the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services the responsible entity for enforcing HIPAA.

Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) Standards

The mobile phone industry has several telecommunication standards, but the predominant one globally is GSM. The GSM standard uses smart cards called Subscriber Identity Modules (SIMs) that are configured with information essential to authenticating a GSM-compliant mobile phone, thus allowing a phone to receive service whenever the phone is within coverage of a suitable network. The GSM standard is managed by the European Telecommunication Standards Institute.


EMV is an open-standard set of specifications for smart card payments and acceptance devices. EMVCo, owned by American Express, JCB, MasterCard, and Visa, manages, maintains and enhances the EMV specifications, to ensure global interoperability of chip-based payment cards with acceptance devices including point of sale terminals and ATMs. The EMV standard initially started out as a terminal specification but has evolved to contain four books:

  • Book 1, Application-Independent Integrated Circuit Card (ICC) to Terminal Interface Requirements, describes the minimum functionality required for integrated circuit cards and terminals to ensure correct operation and interoperability independent of the application to be used.
  • Book 2, Security and Key Management, describes the minimum security functionality required for integrated circuit cards and terminals to ensure correct operation and interoperability. Additional requirements and recommendations are provided on online communication between ICC and issuer and the management of cryptographic keys at terminal, issuer and payment system level.
  • Book 3, Application Specification, defines the terminal and integrated circuit card procedures necessary to effect a payment system transaction in an international interchange environment.
  • Book 4, Cardholder, Attendant, and Acquirer Interface Requirements, defines the mandatory, recommended, and optional terminal requirements necessary to support the acceptance of integrated circuit cards in accordance with Books 1, 2 and 310.

EMVCo is also active in developing specifications, requirements and approval processes for supporting contactless and mobile payments.

Personal Computer/Smart Card (PC/SC) Workgroup

The PC/SC Workgroup was formed in 1996 and included Schlumberger Electronic Transactions, Bull CP8, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and other leading vendors. This group has developed open specifications for integrating smart cards with personal computers. The specifications are platform-independent and based on existing industry standards. They are designed to enable application developers to create smart card-based secure network applications for banking, health care, corporate security, and electronic commerce. The specifications include cryptographic functionality and secure storage, programming interfaces for smart card readers and PCs, and a high-level application interface for application development. The specifications are based on the ISO/IEC 7816 standard and support EMV and GSM application standards.

OpenCard™ Framework

The OpenCard Framework is a set of guidelines announced by IBM, Netscape, NCI, and Sun Microsystems for integrating smart cards with network computers. The guidelines are based on open standards and provide an architecture and a set of application program interfaces (APIs) that enable application developers and service providers to build and deploy smart card solutions on any OpenCard-compliant network computer. Through the use of a smart card, an OpenCard-compliant system will enable access to personalized data and services from any network computer and dynamically download from the Internet all device drivers that are necessary to communicate with the smart card. By providing a high-level interface which can support multiple smart card types, the OpenCard Framework is intended to enable vendor-independent card interoperability. The system incorporates Public Key Cryptography Standard (PKCS) – 11 and is expandable to include other public key mechanisms.

American Public Transportation Association

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is a nonprofit international association of 1,500 public and private sector organization and established standards for the U.S. transit industry.  Additional information is available at http://www.aptastandards.com.

Java Card

Java Card provides a smart card operating system for running multiple applications. The applicable Java Card specification is: Java Card 3.0.1 Platform Specification.


MULTOS is a high security, multi-application smart card operating system. It is governed by an open consortium of industry-wide companies, the MULTOS Consortium, who manage and license the MULTOS specifications, which cover all stages of the smart device lifecycle.

The MULTOS Consortium is a group of cross-industry global organizations with the objective of promoting the MULTOS high security multi-application platform as a standard for smart cards across all market segments. The consortium governs the development of the technology in line with customer needs, sets policies for the open licensing of the MULTOS specifications, and ensures the interoperability and interchangeability of platforms from many vendors through the stringent Type Approval and Security Evaluation policies of the MULTOS platform. As of 2014, over 500 million MULTOS cards have been deployed worldwide in sectors including payments, ID and transit.

For more information visit: http://www.multos.com.

Biometric Standards

Many new secure ID system implementations are using both biometrics and smart cards to improve the security and privacy of the ID system.

  • ANSI-INCITS 358-2002, BioAPI Specification – (ISO/IEC 19784-1). BioAPI is intended to provide a high-level generic biometric authentication model–one suited for any form of biometric technology. It covers the basic functions of enrollment, verification, and identification, and includes a database interface to allow a biometric service provider (BSP) to manage the technology device and identification population for optimum performance. It also provides primitives that allow the application to separately manage the capture of samples on a client workstation, and the enrollment, verification, and identification functions on a server. The BioAPI framework has been ported to Win32, Linux, UNIX, and WinCE. Note that BioAPI is not optimum for a microcontroller environment such as might be embedded within a door access control reader unit or within a smart card processor. BioAPI is more suitable when there is a general-purpose computer available.
  • ANSI-INCITS 398, Common Biometric Exchange Formats Framework (CBEFF) – (ISO/IEC 19785-1). The Common Biometric Exchange Formats Framework (CBEFF) describes a set of data elements necessary to support biometric technologies and exchange data in a common way. These data can be placed in a single file used to exchange biometric information between different system components or between systems. The result promotes interoperability of biometric-based application programs and systems developed by different vendors by allowing biometric data interchange. This specification is a revised (and augmented) version of the original CBEFF, the Common Biometric Exchange File Format, originally published as NISTIR 6529.
  • ANSI-INCITS Biometric Data Format Interchange Standards. ANSI-INCITS has created a series of standards specifying the interchange format for the exchange of biometric data. These standards specify a data record interchange format for storing, recording, and transmitting the information from a biometric sample within a CBEFF data structure. The ANSI-INCITS published data interchange standards are shown below. The ISO equivalent standards for each are in process but not yet finalized.
  • ANSI-INCITS 377-2004 – Finger Pattern Based Interchange Format
  • ANSI-INCITS 378-2004 – Finger Minutiae Format for Data Interchange
  • ANSI-INCITS 379-2004 – Iris Interchange Format
  • ANSI-INCITS 381-2004 – Finger Image Based Interchange Format
  • ANSI-INCITS 385-2004 – Face Recognition Format for Data Interchange
  • ANSI-INCITS 395-2005 – Signature/Sign Image Based Interchange Format
  • ANSI-INCITS 396-2004 – Hand Geometry Interchange Format
  • ISO/IEC 19794 series on biometric data interchange formats. Part 1 is the framework, Part 2 defines the finger minutiae data, Part 3 defines the finger pattern spectral data, Part 4 defines the finger image data, Part 5 defines the face image data, Part 6 defines the iris image data, and still in development, Part 7 will define the signature/sign time series data, Part 8 will define the finger pattern skeletal data and Part 8 will define the vascular image data.