Biometric templates may be stored in the memory of readers, limiting the number of users by the reader memory size (there are reader models that have been manufactured with a storage capacity of up to 50,000 templates). User templates may also be stored in the memory of the smart card, thereby removing all limits to the number of system users (finger-only identification is not possible with this technology), or a central server PC can act as the template host. For systems where a central server is employed, known as "server-based verification", readers first read the biometric data of the user and then forward it to the main computer for processing. Server-based systems support a large number of users but are dependent on the reliability of the central server, as well as communication lines.
In the 1-to-1 mode a user must first either present an ID card or enter a PIN. The reader then looks up the template of the corresponding user in the database and compares it with the live scan. The 1-to-1 method is considered more secure and is generally faster as the reader needs to perform only one comparison. Most 1-to-1 biometric readers are "dual-technology" readers: they either have a built-in proximity, smart card or keypad reader, or they have an input for connecting an external card reader.
Magnetic stripe technology, usually called mag-stripe, is so named because of the stripe of magnetic oxide tape that is laminated on a card. There are three tracks of data on the magnetic stripe. Typically the data on each of the tracks follows a specific encoding standard, but it is possible to encode any format on any track. A mag-stripe card is cheap compared to other card technologies and is easy to program. The magnetic stripe holds more data than a barcode can in the same space. While a mag-stripe is more difficult to generate than a bar code, the technology for reading and encoding data on a mag-stripe is widespread and easy to acquire. Magnetic stripe technology is also susceptible to misreads, card wear, and data corruption. These cards are also susceptible to some forms of skimming where external devices are placed over the reader to intercept the data read.
A contactless smart card uses the same radio-based technology as the proximity card, with the exception of the frequency band used: it uses a higher frequency (13.56 MHz instead of 125 kHz), which allows the transfer of more data, and communication with several cards at the same time. A contactless card does not have to touch the reader or even be taken out of a wallet or purse. Most access control systems only read serial numbers of contactless smart cards and do not utilize the available memory. Card memory may be used for storing biometric data (i.e. fingerprint template) of a user. In such case a biometric reader first reads the template on the card and then compares it to the finger (hand, eye, etc.) presented by the user. In this way biometric data of users does not have to be distributed and stored in the memory of controllers or readers, which simplifies the system and reduces memory requirements.
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There are two types of smart cards: contact and contactless. Both have an embedded microprocessor and memory. The smart card differs from the proximity card in that the microchip in the proximity card has only one function: to provide the reader with the card's identification number. The processor on the smart card has an embedded operating system and can handle multiple applications such as a cash card, a pre-paid membership card, or an access control card.