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Smart Card with an Integrated Electrical Switch for Secure Operation

J. W. Yum(1), B. C. Yoo(2), K. Y. Park(2) and J. H. Jang*(1)


(1) Department of Information and Communications and Department of Nanobio Materials and Electronics
Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology
261, Cheomdan-gwagiro, Buk-gu, Gwangju, 500-712, Republic of Korea
*Email:jjang@gist.ac.kr
(2) HAREX Inc, 40-4, Kwean-dong, Sosa-gu, Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province, 422-800, Republic of Korea

ABSTRACT: Security concerns and privacy infringement can be serious problems in many applications of radio
frequency identification (RFID) systems. Most of the problems are due to the lack of user control over the
communication between RFID tags and readers. Giving the user control over the RFID link can alleviate potential
security problems. A simple smart card that prevents unauthorized credit card payment or unwanted identification theft
can be realized by integrating a simple electrical touch switch with a 14443 smart card. The smart card is activated only
when the user touches the switch; specifically, the impedance of an interdigitated capacitor changes at the touch of a
finger.
INTRODUCTION
Radio frequency identification (RFID) systems are used increasingly in applications such as public transport cards,
integrated circuit cards, e-passports, and admission cards. The rapid deployment of RFID systems in these applications
exacerbates the need to find a suitable method of preventing unwanted disclosure of information stored in the RFID
chip. Conventional smart cards have no mechanism for preventing a third party from placing a portable reader within
the interrogation zone of the smart card system to steal private information stored in the smart cards. Authentication
protocols and hardware designs have been proposed by researchers for security purposes [1-4]. Cryptographic methods
such hash-lock, re-encryption, tree-walking and cryptographic authentication protocols have also been presented in [1]
and [2]. Another security measure involves the use of a Faraday cage: the cage shields tags and changes the hardware
used for RFID systems [3-4]. A switch inserted in a conventional smart card can secure physical access by controlling
the RF power transferred to a conventional passive RFID tag. Within the interrogation zone of a reader, the integrated
circuit in a smart card can be activated or deactivated by turning the integrated switch on and off. When the switch is
closed, communication between the reader and the smart card can be established and information can be transferred.
Incorporating a switch in a smart card is one of the most attractive ways of enabling users to securely control the
activation of the wireless link between an RFID reader and the smart card. Some have used a mechanical switch [5];
others have used a capacitive touch switch in part of the antenna of UHF RFID applications [6]. For this study, we used
parallel conductor strips as a switch together with a finger touch sensor whose impedance changes at a given RF
frequency range whenever the user touches it. We investigated the electrical characteristics of the switch and the
operational mechanism of the smart card with the integrated electrical touch switch and successfully demonstrated the
switching.

Fig. 1 Photograph of the designed smart card (85.46 mm x 53.92 mm x 0.25 mm)

978-1-4244-4885-2/10/$25.00 2010 IEEE

Fig. 2 Equivalent circuit of the reader antenna and the smart card: V0: source voltage; V1: voltage established at
the primary coil, L1, in the reader; V2: the induced voltage at the secondary coil, L2, in the smart card; M: mutual
inductance; C2: parallel of Cp and C2'; Cp: parasitic capacitance; C2': capacitance of the integrated circuit; RL:
resistance of the integrated circuit

(b)

(a)
(c)
Fig. 3 Equivalent circuit of parallel conductor plates that function as an electrical switch: (a) copper plates
(width: 0.2 cm; length: 2 cm; gap between plates: 0.1 cm); (b) untouched switch; and (c) touched switch

(a)

(b)

Fig. 4 Comparison between the impedances calculated from the equivalent circuit and the measurement of the
electrical switch (width: 0.2 cm; length: 2 cm; gap between copper plates: 0.1 cm): (a) off state of the switch
(normally off state); (b) on state of the switch (when parallel conductor plates are touched with a finger)

DESIGN AND EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS


When a conventional smart card is placed in the vicinity of a reader, the magnetic field, H, produced by the primary coil
in the reader is coupled to a secondary coil connected to an integrated circuit in the smart card. When the coupling
strength between these two coils is high enough, the wireless link between the reader and the smart card is established
and data communication can be carried out. In this operation, a user who fails to notice that the card is placed within the
interrogation zone of the RFID reader has no way of approving or denying read/write procedures. If a switch is
incorporated in the smart card, the user can control the cards operational mode by simply touching the pads with a
finger. Fig. 1 shows a smart card operating at 13.56 MHz under the control of a user. The length and diameter of the
coils in the smart card were designed for optimum quality factor and a required minimum bandwidth. Fig. 2 shows a
schematic diagram of a smart card with an integrated switch. The state of the switch changes when the user touches the
parallel conductor plates with a finger. The coil and the switch were designed to be normally off. When the user
touches the switch, the impedance of the switch changes to the value with which enough power can be transferred to the
smart card for the communication. Fig. 3 shows the equivalent circuit of the copper plates that are used as an electrical
switch. When the switch is touched by a finger, the impedance of the switch will change to a low value of 374.688j226.74 [] at 13.56 MHz. In the normal situation where the switch is left untouched, the impedance of the switch has a
very high value of 136.739-j6721.12 []. A comparison of the impedances of the switch at the on and off states
confirms that the switching function can be realized by simply using parallel conductor plates without any mechanical
manipulation. Data is transmitted whenever the switch in the smart card is closed by the touch of a finger, and the
resultant feedback between the reader and the smart card can indicate any impedance changes caused by the touch of a
finger. The parameter ZT', which is defined as the transformed tag impedance, varies in relation to the variable
capacitance and the status of the on/off mode of the electrical switch [7]. Fig. 5 shows a locus curve of the transformed
tag impedance, ZT, with respect to the variable capacitance. When the switch is turned on by the touch of a finger on the
parallel conductor plates, the transformed tag impedance, ZT' at A, where the integrated circuit in the smart card is
deactivated, is moved to ZT' at B, where the integrated circuit in the smart card is activated. The impedance range
changes from an inoperable area to an operable area whenever the user touches the electrical switch. Furthermore, when
the variable capacitance is changed, the transformed tag impedance range, namely from ZT' at C to ZT' at D, operates the
integrated circuit in the smart card.
Fig. 6 shows the load-modulated signal with a subcarrier transmitted from the smart card to the reader when the switch
is closed and the voltage changes from 1.5 VP-P to 0.9 VP-P at the reader antenna. In this situation, the transmitted loadmodulated signal affects the amplitude modulation of the voltage at the reader antenna. Fig. 6(a) shows the oscilloscope
trace for when the switch is off; Fig. 6(b) shows the oscilloscope trace for when the switch is on.

Fig. 5 Locus curve of ZT' with respect to the variable capacitance. As shown in Fig. 3, ZT' is at A when the
electrical switch is in the off state and ZT' is at B when the electrical switch is in the on state. (Cvar: 0 pF to 150 pF;
A: 0.0011 + j0.083; B: 1.35 + j1.59; C3.3 pF: 0.0035 + j0.342; D150 pF: 0.5997 +j4.443)

(a)

(b)
Fig. 6 Oscilloscope measurement of the signals when (a) the switch is off (untouched) and (b) the switch is on
(touched)
CONCLUSION
We investigated a smart card that users can control with the touch of a finger. The smart card with the integrated switch
has a high level of security and privacy protection. Moreover, the very simple manufacturing process obviates the need
for any additional processes in the mass production stage.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
This work was partially supported by the World Class University (WCU) program at GIST through a grant provided by
the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) of Korea (Project No. R31-20008-000-10026-0) and
Center for Distributed Sensor Network at GIST.
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