Review: Smart card readers for the iPhone and iPad

Flexible PKard Reader and elegant Tactivo bring smart card authentication to your favorite mobile device

BYOD becomes a bit more complicated when you work in an environment that requires stronger forms of authentication than a username and password combination. A close inspection of the iPhone or iPad reveals neither a fingerprint sensor nor a smart card reader, for example. Fortunately, vendors such as Thursby Software and Precise Biometrics have rushed in to fill the void.

Thursby Software's PKard Reader and Precise Biometrics' Tactivo support the major standard smart card formats including the CAC (Common Access Card) used by the U.S. military and DOD (Department of Defense). I tested the products by using an iPhone 4S and an iPad 2, both running iOS 6.1, to access a number of military and DOD websites that require CAC authentication.

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Until the PKard Reader and Tactivo devices arrived for the iPhone and iPad, military and DOD personnel had to use either a PC or Mac to remotely access CAC-secured sites, even for Webmail, travel, and unclassified administrative tasks. As prices fall, these workers will be sorely tempted to buy one of these readers -- and so will many iPhone and iPad users in private sector companies that require smart card authentication.

Common capabilities and limitations
Thursby's PKard Reader and Precise Biometrics' Tactivo worked as advertised, allowing me to successfully check email on both the Navy Marine Corps Email and the Army Email AKO sites.

Note, however, that the Safari browser on the iPhone and iPad does not support smart card authentication. In order to facilitate browsing of websites that authenticate using smart cards or CACs, Thursby's PKard Reader and Precise Biometrics' Tactivo both include Thursby's free PKard Reader app. (Military and DOD and government personnel will like that the PKard Reader app lets you bookmark commonly used CAC-required sites, organized in service favorite folders such as Navy Sites, Army Sites, Air Force Sites, DOD Sites, Marine Corps Sites, Coast Guard, and Federal Government.)

InfoWorld Scorecard
Features (30.0%)
Ease of use (30.0%)
Value (20.0%)
Setup (20.0%)
Overall Score (100%)
Precise Biometrics Tactivo for iPad and iPhone 8.0 8.0 5.0 8.0 7.4
Thursby Software PKard Reader for iPad and iPhone 7.0 7.0 8.0 8.0 7.4
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