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Common Access Card

The Common Access Card is a smart card about the size of a credit card. It is the standard identification for active-duty military personnel, Selected Reserve, United States Department of Defence (DoD) civilian employees, and eligible contractor personnel. It is the Department's Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 authorized personal identity verification cards.

The Department is implementing smart card technology as a Department-wide Common Access Card /Personal Identity Verification (CAC/PIV). The CAC/PIV is also the principal card used to enable physical access to buildings and controlled spaces and for logical access to the Department's computer networks and systems. It contains mandatory identification, physical and logical access capabilities, Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) authentication, encryption, digital signing certificates, and may also contain Department-wide and/or Component-specific information such to support manifesting, deployment readiness, or food service.

The CAC satisfies two-factor authentication: what you have (the physical card) and what you know (the PIN). This CAC technology allows for rapid authentication, and enhanced physical and logical security. The card can be used in a variety of ways. Also, the CAC covers the bases for digital signature and data encryption technology: authentication, integrity, and non-repudiation.

A CAC card contains one or more integrated circuits and may also employ one or more of the following technologies:

  • magnetic stripe;
  • encryption and authentication keys;
  • bar codes, linear or two-dimensional;
  • non-contact and radio frequency transmitters (currently not being used);
  • biometric information;
  • photo identification (optional).
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