The SCOSTA Experience

27 Mar 2006

Prof. Rajat Moona had visited our college today to give a talk on Smart cards and how the IIT-K team had managed to bring in a standard for transport applications. Yes, India now officially has a standard for issuing smart card based driving licenses in all states!

The standard is named SCOSTA, or Smart Card OS for Transport Applications. The job of the IIT-K team was, among others, to define this standard and provide a reference implementation. SCOSTA is based on the the ISO 7816-x series of standards, but improves upon many of its drawbacks and ambiguities.

Some of the challenges that SCOSTA faced were very similar to those that any Government project in India does: corruption and fierce competition. In addition to dealing with corrupt officials, the SCOSTA committee also had to face the various smart card vendors and their business motives that tried to influence the standard. Technically, they also had to keep in mind the limitations of the processing power: only a mere 32kB of ROM and an 8Bit processor. Quite a different ball game when compared to the regular programming that we do on today’s PC: virtually unlimited memory on 64Bit processors! It’s amazing how they’ve managed to build an entire OS on a credit-card sized card!

It was a truly eye-opening experience. It seems that the NIC was responsible for this initiative and was the driving force behind the committee. I also learnt that Transport (and therefore issual of driving licenses) is, contrary to popular belief, under the Union Government. The state government only performs the task on behalf of the Central Government, and the police only challan offenders on behalf of the Judiciary!

He also gave us an insight into the future of smart cards. VISA has already started issuing contact-less smart card with biometric identification built in. One just has to hold the card with his right thumb, and a switch is activated which scans the fingerprint, and on successful validation, generates a one-time use number (which would be a hash of a combination of the current time, account number, etc) on a plasma display on the card itself!

Our institute has planned to issue “smart” identity card to us students after that encouraging talk. Let’s see how far that goes!