What is a CAC Card?

A CAC card is a type of smartcard predominantly issued to military personnel, civilian personnel, employees and contractors of agencies that fall under the authority of the United States Department of Defense. The CAC is an identity card that is of the same size and dimensions as an international credit card. Using a CAC card is a basic requirement to gain access into secure military installations, facilities, offices, computers, communication networks and restricted areas of various agencies that fall under the jurisdiction of the DoD.

The CAC card by itself is made of plastic. It has a picture of the card holder on the top left end of it's front side. The card holder's name is written directly below his/her photograph. At the top right on the front side is the date of issue of the CAC card. The card holder's name, rank, agency and the date of expiry follows right below it. The whole background of the card is imprinted with a copy proof pattern to prevent forgery. There is also a microchip at the bottom on the front side of the card beside a barcode. Initially, the microchip on CAC's had a storage of 32K but on more modern versions the storage capacity of the microchip goes up to 64K and even up to 144K in some recently issued cards. The back of the card carries a magnetic strip which contains identification information that is localized to the agency it is used in.

The two factor authentication process of the Cac Card

cac card

A CAC card uses a two factor authentication process to identify and authenticate authorized personnel. First, the card holder swipes the card in a card reader, then the cac card reader software will validate his/her authorization details, but in an additional layer of security, card holders also need to key in an unique pin that is known only to them. When it comes to accessing secure locations and networks that require CAC authentication, this process of identification is theoretically fool proof. These days, CAC cards are used even on networks outside secure military installations and bases. "The software used worldwide to issue CAC cards is the Realtime Automated Personnel Identification System, abbreviated as "RAPIDS". " This software is extremely secure and operates over a highly secure network. The people who issue CAC's are trained by the DoD and have to be certified in the usage of RAPIDS. RAPIDS is also closely monitored by the DoD in order to prevent misuse.

The CAC card is a smartcard that can be read by card readers issued by the DoD for the purpose. In certain cases, the card reader can also be installed on conventional systems that run card reader software specific to their operating systems. The software for readers inside secure facilities are installed by default, however there are a few middle ware software packs that support CAC Card readers that are attached to Windows, Mac and other conventional operating systems. Since many employees and personnel of DoD related agencies operate from outside secure facilities these days, a card reader and CAC card reader software make it very convenient to safely access secure networks using a CAC card even from conventional workstations.

the cac card