How safe is Java Card?

Julien SIMON

This is a very tough question. The security of Java cards is evaluated using the Common Criteria (CC) methodology. A number of platforms (Gemplus, Oberthur Card Systems, Schlumberger, probably others) have passed security level EAL1+. No Java Card platform has passed the EAL4+ level yet: this level is the minimum safety level requested by banking applications. This is where Multos has a key advantage over Java Card, so you can bet that Java Card vendors are hard at work trying to reach it. Let's wait and see!

If you want to learn more on CC, go to:

  • The CC web site.
  • The NIST page on CC for smart cards.

Beyond that, one of the overall concerns seems to be the lack of on-card verification. Some argue that it's unnecessary if an Open Platform compliant Card Manager enforces secure applet loading. Some argue it is still necessary and claim that on-card verification is possible using Proof-Carrying Code.