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At work I use my ID badge (or USB token) to log onto my PC. Is that a smart card?

At work, if you use your ID badge or a USB token to log onto your PC or network, you are most likely using smart card technology. Smart cards have small but sophisticated computers inside them. They deliver the highest levels of computer security to protect your identity and your employer’s information systems.

Your smart ID badge helps prove it really is you, and not someone who stole your password and is pretending to be you. Normally you have to enter a PIN code to prove it is you, and your company’s servers use the computer in the smart card ID as a second level check to make sure it really is you. Companies are giving employees these personal security devices now because of the high risk that someone might steal your password and use it to break into their information systems.

Another way to increase network security some companies use is to give employees a small device that displays a different code they have to enter every time they log in. This is called a one-time password (OTP). This serves the same purpose, because if someone steals your password but cannot enter the unique one-time code too, they cannot log onto the network.

See also, Why is it safer to have a personal security device to access online services?

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