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Smart cards: 50 years of (r)evolution

It’s hard to believe, but smart cards – a defining technology of the modern world – turn 50 this month. G+D Mobile Security marks this anniversary with a retrospective on the technology.

This September 13 marks an anniversary of an invention that has changed the daily lives of millions of people worldwide. Fifty years ago, to the day, the first patent for chip card technology was filed.

You use chip cards daily. As payment cards, as the SIM card in your phone and your various identification cards, from company badges to passports. Although the formats may differ in size, colour, and shape, the core functionality remains identical to that original patent filing: To provide secure authentication and communication between devices.

Smart cards have been an integral component of the business of G+D Mobile Security for decades. Indeed, Giesecke+Devrient was there at the creation of the technology, and has remained a world leading supplier of smart card hardware and technology and related services ever since.

DE1945777A: The patent number that changed history

Chip cards (also known as smart cards or integrated circuit cards) may be simple in appearance, but don’t let the subtlety fool you: they wield a mighty power. The integrated circuitry enables you to access your money, pay for goods or services, use your phone, open locked doors, and so much more.

The technology on which modern smart cards are based was created in the late 1960s and 1970s, based on the initial patent filed in 1968 by the German inventors Helmut Groetrupp and Jürgen Dethloff.

Groettrup (1916-1981), who is also known as a rocket scientist, became Managing Director of Giesecke+Devrient’s GAO subsidiary in 1970, and the rights to his invention transferred to Giesecke+Devrient. Subsequently, G+D played an integral part in developing chip card technology.

Today, smart cards number in their billions and the advent of eSIM technology is expected to boost this further when constantly more connected IoT devices are launched and this tiny form factor is adapted for these devices. Looking back, smart card technology is considered to be among the 50 top German technology inventions of all time – ranking alongside such revolutionary items as diesel engines, refrigerators, sparkplugs and the MP3 file format.

The technology behind the revolution

Groettrup and Dethloffs filed the original patent in Austria back in 1968 and in Germany the following year. It described an ‘identification circuit’ that outlined the structure of a smart card containing security features, and already included a contactless data transmission system by means of ‘inductive coupling’.

The goal of Groettrup and Dethloff was to create an electronic key that could not be copied, and could transmit encrypted data. The patent described the foundation of trust that underlies chip card technology to this day.

Dethloff took the technology further in a new patent application by using microprocessors and EEPROMs to make data handling even safer and more flexible. G+D purchased this application and developed three fundamental, global patents from it: these patents describe the secure initialization and personalization only through authorized locations in card production, writing properties based on the non-volatile programmable read/write memory (EEPROM), the use of a charge pump to prevent tampering during the writing process, and the blocking or self-destruction of the information in the event of an attack.

G+D Mobile Security smart cards for the IoT

The first products that included chip card technology in large numbers were telephone cards for French payphones, which were released in 1983. Another example of Giesecke+Devrient technology leadership and innovation in chip cards occurred in the early 1990s, when the company invented and began selling the first pluggable SIM cards with an integrated chip.

Today, smart cards are as commonplace in daily life as microwave ovens, mobile phones, and televisions. It is almost impossible to imagine life without them – and they are continuing to find new uses in this always-connected world.

For example, they have been introduced into vehicles as part of the ever-growing Internet of Things (IoT). In continuation of the company’s rich innovation history, G+D Mobile Security is again at the forefront here and provides security solutions for the connected car industry, such as eSIM management, remote vehicle access control and digital car keys.

Conclusion

Through the pioneering work of Groettrup and Dethloff the way people live their daily lives has become easier and more efficient, their significant contribution brought major change to the way we all deal with technology.