A look behind the scenes at an ultra-secure credit card factory where small but complex smart card chips are made
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Unlike traditional credit cards’ magnetic stripes that have static information stored and can easily be duplicated by fraudsters, EMV chips create a unique code to authenticate each credit card transaction.
Gemalto is one company based in the U.S. that makes EMV chips, in a highly secure and secretive process. “What we are making are small computers,” says Jack Jania, Senior VP of Strategic Partnership for Gemalto. “They have all the functionality of your laptop. The only thing they don’t have are a screen and keyboard.”
EMV chips start as giant glass cylinders that weigh about 500 pounds and then are sliced into thousands of individual thin wafer disks. Tiny micro circuits are then embedded on top of each wafer.
“We take this wafer and back grind it to make it thinner so these chips will fit into a credit card, and then we take a laser saw and we cut out every one of these individual chips,” say Jania.
The mini chips are then electronically wire bonded to gold contact pads and sealed to keep them safe for everyday use. The EMV chip itself is actually behind the outer gold contact pad that you see on your credit card.
Finally, they are inserted into a small cavity in a credit card and programmed with software to act as a communications medium between the smart card and a bank host when inserted into a card reader.
The computing capacity of a tiny EMV chip is comparable to the computing power that put the first man on the moon, so the next time you’re waiting for your transaction to finish, just remember an advanced microcomputer is at work securing your information.