Smart Card Authentication | Raise Your Security Levels to a Higher Standard

What Is Smart Card Authentication?

smart card authenticationA smart card, as the name suggests, is a secure microchip that enables user authentication by generating, storing, and operating cryptographic keys. Smart card authentication works with the help of smart cards, smart card devices, and authentication software. Smart cards are a strong form of authentication with secrets and cryptographic keys which is protected logically and physically, making it hard to compromise. 

Smart card authentication is a two-step login process that uses a smart card. The smart card stores a user’s public key credentials and a personal identification number (PIN), which acts as the secret key to authenticate the user to the smart card. A smart card enhances security—you can’t gather user details (such as a PIN) by tampering with these cards.

Why Is Smart Card Authentication Important?

Before providing access to computer networks, systems, and applications, organizations must validate the authenticity of a user. As more and more organizations maintain their data in a secure datacenter and employees access this data remotely, the user authentication mechanism must be tamper-proof.

Smart cards are authenticated through a smart card reader. Whenever a user swipes their card in a smart card reader and enters the PIN, multiple factors of authentication are applied. Smart card authentication provides two-factor authentication by verifying what the user has swiped (the smart card) and the unique identifier for the user (PIN). The thread of data breach from endpoints in a remotely available datacenter is reduced.

Advantages of Smart Card Authentication

Advantages of Smart Card Authentication

A smart card authentication is a great option for organizations that value security because it offers numerous benefits.

1.  Security

Smart cards provide enhanced security as compared to magnetic stripe cards. They may contain microprocessors that can process data directly without remote connections. Additionally, information stored in a smart card cannot be easily deleted, modified, or retrieved. Even if a smart card falls into malicious hands, it is highly unlikely that a person can create a duplicate copy and breach security.

2. Flexibility

Smart card details can be updated remotely without issuing a new card. Such cards cannot be duplicated, as they are encrypted and have a unique ID. By using a smart card, a user can access multiple services—you don’t have to carry multiple separate cards.

3. Packaging

Smart cards are manufactured from plastic—besides the low-cost, embedded microprocessor. This makes them less expensive than digital tokens and other authentication platforms. Besides, they easily conform to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) packaging standards.

4. Processing power

Smart cards leverage a small CPU that can perform other functions as well, besides just storing data. For example, the CPU can count the number of times that a user enters PIN wrongly and automatically lockout that user for a specified period.

Disadvantages of Smart Card Authentication

Despite the many features built into smart cards, they have some limitations.

1.  Lack of user mobility

User mobility—an essential aspect of remote working—is only possible if IT administrators install smart card readers on every device that users access in an organization. Unfortunately, this is not possible because the end-devices must support the same standard card reader interfaces, or in extreme cases, use a universal proprietary card reader.

2. Costly card readers

Smart cards are not entirely costly, but card readers are. The initial investments in smart card technology can be prohibitive for startups with scarce financial resources.

3. Slow performance

Implementing smart card authentication in some infrastructures may slow down their performances, especially during the initial loading when users login to their workstations. As such, IT managers must ensure that their hardware meets the minimum specifications for smart card authentication.

4. Can easily get lost

Smart cards are light-weight, and users can easily lose them or break them without noticing. As such, organizations must have robust backup measures in place.

Parallels RAS: An Alternative Solution

With the increased usage of virtual applications, sensitive data is removed from endpoint devices and stored in a secure, centralized location to avert any security threats. As the endpoints are the gateways to the centrally stored data, extreme care should be taken so that users gaining access to such endpoint devices go through a strict authentication process.

Parallels® Remote Application Server (RAS) has a robust solution that allows smart card authentication from Windows, Mac®, and Linux devices. This enhanced security layer dramatically reduces any possible data breach via the endpoints. By using Parallels RAS, system administrators can ensure that the right resources are shared with the right user or security group.

Download your free 30-day trial and experience how Parallels RAS can enhance security in your organization.


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