Recently, I had the pleasure of trying to get some government certified smart cards for some of the technical people at Quest, and I can't believe how much of a headache and hassle it was. I actually don't work for Quest Software, but a subsidiary (Quest Software Public Sector) which is focused on the public sector space. And while most Quest employees don't have a need for government-issued or government approved smart cards, our company does. And while I knew that non-government employees can get a relatively new (a little over a year old) flavor of the PIV card called PIV-I, I was amazed at how difficult the process was to navigate. Thankfully, we have some pretty good and persistent purchasing folks, but the process is still pretty arduous for an organization that has been working with the government for years.
I won't get into all the details, but if you're interested, feel free to contact me offline.
In any case, I find myself constantly having to explain what the different is between a smart card, a CAC, a PIV card, and now a PIV-I card. A smart card is pretty straight forward - it's a generic term, and all the other cards fall into this category. You can find a lot more details on them here at Wikipedia. In any case, the thing that makes a smart card a CAC (which means Common Access Card, so please don't say, "CAC Card" as it is redundant) is that it is used by the US DoD (Department of Defense). If you want to do any work on government systems in the military, you will most likely need one of these.
Like their military counterparts, employees within civilian agencies also need smart cards. Of course, they opted for a similar, but not the same, standard. That standard is a PIV card (Personal Identification Verification). The cards are slightly different from CACs, and have varying information printed on them, depending on the issuing agency. Plus, they use a different set of CA (Certificate Authority) servers than the ones that CACs use, as the DoD have their own servers.
Finally, and this is the confusing thing, there are PIV-I cards. PIV-I stands for PIV-Interoperable. There are some great docs about PIV and PIV-I at www.idmanagment.gov which is a site run by GSA but I'll save you the trouble of wadding through a lot of documentation. The PIV-I FAQ here states:
2.2 What is the difference between a PIV-I Card and a PIV Card?
The term “PIV Card” may only be used to describe an identity card that is fully conformant with Federal PIV standards (i.e., FIPS 201 and related documentation). Only a Federal entity is capable of fully meeting these standards and issuing a PIV Card. A PIV-I Card meets the PIV technical specifications of NIST SP 800-73 and is issued in a manner that may be trusted by Federal Government Relying Parties, but does not meet all of the requirements of FIPS 201.
What does this mean? A Federal entity (aka employee) uses a PIV card, and a trusted, non-government entity has to use a PIV-I card.
So there you go. In summary:
- CAC is for Department of Defense users
- PIV is for civilian users working for the Federal government
- PIV-I is for non-Federal entities that need to access government systems