What is the new secure ID badge being given to all U.S. government federal employees?

All U.S. government federal employees and subcontractors are getting a new, super-secure ID badge based on smart card technology.  (See also, What is a smart card?)  The badges are used to enter and exit facilities, and they are more secure because special machines at the doors use the computer inside the ID to check that the card is authentic.

The IDs, called PIV cards for Personal Identity Verification, can be used at any facility across the entire federal government.  That is a big advantage because until now each branch of the government had their own IDs, so federal employees and subcontractors usually had to get multiple IDs.

There’s another big advantage too – these IDs can make PCs and networks more secure.  Over time, employees will start using the IDs to login to PCs and servers at work, providing much more security for government information systems than with password logins.  If a password is stolen, anyone can use it.  But if the ID is also needed to login in, even if someone can steal a password they cannot access the systems.

Employees will also use them for securing their email by encrypting (scrambling) it for confidentiality, and also digitally signing emails and documents.  A digital signature with a smart card ID like the PIV card can prove who actually signed a document, and can ensure it was not changed since.  This makes it possible to be more efficient by using more electronics documents, while still maintaining an audit trail.