A smart card, used for authentication, is a mini-computer that has a hardware and software component. The hardware component contains a micro chip/integrated circuit (ICC) as a memory card.

Another category of smart card also contains an embedded microprocessor and volatile memory, required for data processing. Each smart card has its own operating system, required for communication with it via a card reader. In fact, teach smart card may also have its own file system.

The smart card reader reads the secure information from the card and passes to the interface (most of the time a desktop or server) to where it is attached.

To learn more about what smart cards are and how best to use them with certain versions of Windows, read "Lock Down Vista Security with Smart Cards" at our sister site, DevX.com.