Personalized smart cards just got smarter

Toronto-based NBS Technologies Inc. and Visa International have teamed up to help banks work smarter.

The two companies recently announced an exclusive offer to Visa member banks to help in their migration to card-based chip technology. NBS, a provider of identification and transaction system products, has delivered a low volume personalization solution for issuers of Visa smart debit/credit cards and Visa Cash.

Smart cards are used for a variety of reasons, allowing users to make purchases from a credit account, debit account or with stored value on the card. The cards can have multiple applications operating at one time. The users’ frequent flyer program can be working on the same card as their debit or credit account, allowing them to earn points in the desired program.

“We’ve partnered with Visa, and we’ve come up with a solution which involves quality, accuracy, security and a cost that they liked. It’s significantly lower (priced) than any other offering,” said NBS Technologies president and CEO Ken Kivenko.

According to Kivenko, the solution will cut the cost of issuing Visa smart cards compared to other personalization systems that are currently on the market.

“The deal with NBS is very important to us because they operate in a fairly small niche market in personalization. There aren’t that many players,” said Debbie Arnold, vice-president of chip credit debit with Visa International in San Francisco. “They’ve come through with what we feel is a very aggressive, complete package for that particular service.”

NBS is currently implementing an Advantage Series card personalization system, which features a PCI bus-based hardware security module and Windows based software.

According to Kivenko, what goes in the smart card is confidential.

“When we personalize it, the first thing we do is initialize the card and we say this is going to be a valid card. We follow their rules and we initialize,” he said. “Personalization makes the card a person’s card, with all the features they particularly wanted on it.”


According to Kivenko, a smart card is much more secure than the magnetic stripe.

“It hasn’t taken off in the U.S. and Canada, but if you go to Europe or Latin America or Brazil or Japan, you’re going to see smart cards everywhere,” Kivenko said. “For whatever reason, people were accepting the magnetic swipe card, but it is easy to skim.”

Kivenko said that about eight years ago, NBS ran a contest for Grade 12 students in the U.S. NBS offered the students $100 worth of equipment if they successfully designed something that would read and copy what was on the magnetic stripe card and copy it onto another card.

“We didn’t think that too many of them would be able to do it,” he said.

But according to Kivenko, the students went to Radio Shack and bought magnetic tape recorders and readers, and they were able to figure out 27 different pieces of equipment that could actually skim the card and transfer it to another piece of magnetic plastic.

“It can be done. They don’t have to be ex-KGB. (But) with the smart card, they probably would have to be into cryptography and semi-conductors,” Kivenko said. “They would have to be extremely knowledgeable and have quite a lot of assets at their disposal. And even then, they would only be breaking that one card. They wouldn’t be breaking the general code.”