Tech Update One: The Real Smart Card Finally Steps Up, Finally Steps Up

Today I step out from under my dark cloud of foreboding to bring glad tidings! It seems that the consumer is finally able to avail herself of effective and affordable protection from identity theft and collateral loss. Mine arrived in a small securely wrapped parcel from www.PayPal.com a few weeks ago: an ICT Display Card. After a ten-year wait, this form of the long-anticipated “Smart Card” finally debuts.

What does it do, and is it really anything special? Yes, because the ICT Display card appears to offer the first instance of double password protection (dual factor authentication) for the average consumer’s online transactions. Let me describe the process, although I cannot fathom how it works. The account holder logs in to PayPal servers via secure https connection using her established account name and password. After gently depressing the small rubbery nub, the ICT Display Card generates a six to eight digit security key.

How does that new password protocol work?

   It appears on a (possibly LED) display, flush with the surface of the card, on the upper corner. The user then keys in the numeric code, no other process nor hardware needed. After a 6 to 10 second pause (the instructions are contrite, asking for the user’s patience during that nearly imperceptible interval), the key is authenticated and account access is granted. A different randomly generated security key is created for every session, according to the instructions. One could also use a security token delivered via a text message, instead of the card-based security key.  

This nifty little card is the size of an ATM or credit card. It is thinner and lighterthan most office building entrance card readers. The only cost associated is a one-time charge of $5.oo, including shipping and handling.  Remarkable technical innovation was required, as the card is powered by a super lightweight, paper-thin, very long-life battery, which emits a low-power radio frequency transmitting the security code. But where is the receiver? The card is not location-dependent, and may be used with any login, with any IP address. I am very curious how it works!

The developers are a privately-held company, with numerous overseas retail banking customers, and a very low profile website, probably due to this extremely valuable proprietary technology.  PayPal offered this option  for a more secure connection to customers as a bullet point update on the login screen, as opposed to a more visible email distribution to customers.  In fact, I recall seeing it announced only once, with minimal promotion. Instructions are given for users in the USA, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Germany and Austria. though I believe that PayPal offers the double password option solely to US-domestic customers at present. Actually, I am intrigued by the lack of fanfare as much as the capability of the card itself!

Published in: on April 12, 2010 at 11:01 am  Leave a Comment  
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