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MIFARE® Cards: What are they & what are they used for?

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MIFARE® Cards: What are they & what are they used for?

Introduction to MIFARE®

A MIFARE card is a small, self-contained, plastic card with a built-in chip that a reader can communicate with. These cards come in a variety of formats and are used in a variety of ways. MIFARE is a smart card technology developed by NXP Semiconductors in 1944, primarily for transport passes. It is now one of the most popular smart card technologies used for data storage and access control applications, thanks to its ability to communicate quickly and securely with contactless readers. For example, you can use it to pay for your commute by tapping on a card reader on the bus or train, or securely access your workplace by tapping it on a reader located at an entrance. These are some of the most popular applications, although its practical qualities have been applied in a wide range of other sectors. MIFARE cards conform to the ISO14443A industry-standard requirement. The contactless card has an internal antenna and chip activated when it is close enough to the reader's magnetic field. These cards operate at a 13.56MHz frequency. The chip or integrated circuit, as it’s sometimes referred to, has compartmentalised sections that ensure only authorised access. When the antenna establishes a link to the card reader, the chip allows for the reading of the stored data, and the communication is encrypted. This further boosts the card’s security, making it more popular.

What are the benefits of MIFARE cards?

MIFARE cards’ offer a relatively affordable solution for a wide range of applications, that other cards do not. These are some of the key benefits: - Versatility: MIFARE technology comes in a wide range of formats, including cards, key fobs and wristbands. This makes it a highly versatile technology choice for a wide range of uses. - Security: The MIFARE family offers a wide range of choices, with everything from MIFARE Ultralight® for low security applications, to MIFARE Plus® for higher security applications. All MIFARE cards offer secure encryption, making them difficult to clone. - Convenience: MIFARE technology is contactless, operating at 13.56Mhz and doesn’t need to be inserted into a reader to be read. This makes its use quick and convenient for users, which is perhaps one of the biggest reasons it’s such a popular technology.

Where are MIFARE cards used?

The uses of MIFARE cards are almost endless, including access control cards, loyalty cards, event ticketing, hotel key cards, public transport ticketing, student ID cards, fuel cards, cashless payment cards and more. Below we take a look at some of the most popular applications in more detail.

Employee access cards

Each employee you add to your team gets a MIFARE card for accessing the building, their specific department, and any other area that needs special permission to access, if they enjoy such privileges. Additionally, they can be used in the staff cafeteria and for other amenities such as the office gym. They can also be personalised with staff details and company branding. This allows for quick visual identification of staff or visitors and allows for publicity of your brand if your employees wear them when travelling to and from work.

Public transport

This is probably the most popular use of MIFARE cards. It allows for people to load their card with funds or purchase travel passes. The users card can then quickly and efficiently allow access to public transport such as buses and trains, when validated by a reader. It has been the best option since 1994. Years of refinement have made MIFARE cards the preferred option globally as a pay-as-you-go fare solution.

Event Ticketing

This technology can be utilised in wristbands, key fobs, and traditional cards. These are used as entry tickets for attendees and can also be loaded with additional funds for them to use for cashless payment at the event. Depending on the event, they can use the cards to quickly access different event sections, hospitality paddocks, and even accommodation areas. Additionally, the cards can be used for cashless payment meaning food vendors and other sales people at the event can quickly take payment for goods, reducing the risks associated with cash and bank cards. Overall, MIFARE cards allow increased security and a better guest experience for event organisers.

Student ID Cards

MIFARE cards are used as student ID cards across the globe. They provide a quick and easy way for staff and students to be easily identified, as well as playing a key part in the security of education campuses. Alongside access control systems, they offer a way to limit access to campus buildings, lecture halls, labs and other secure areas and easily identify the staff and students on site at any given time. In addition to this, they also make access more efficient, eliminating the need for physical ID checks, and can be used for additional purposes such as cashless payment at on-site cafeterias.

The MIFARE card family

The MIFARE family consists of MIFARE Classic®, MIFARE DESFire®, MIFARE Ultralight and MIFARE Plus. Here we explore each of these, looking at their benefits and applications.

MIFARE Classic

This multi-use technology card complies with ISO/IEC 14443 and comes with 1KB or 4KB of memory, which is ideal for ticketing, event entry, public transport payment systems and legacy access control systems. The MIFARE Classic 1K EV1 card is the most popular in the classic range.


The MIFARE DESFire family consists of three evolutions, EV1, EV2 & EV3. Although MIFARE DESFire EV1 is still available, it’s no longer recommended for new systems and is typically used for legacy applications. Below we take a look at the two most recent evolutions of these cards, MIFARE DESFire EV2 and MIFARE DESFire EV3.


MIFARE DESFire EV2 cards are ideal when you need to quickly and securely transmit data. It offers the best flexibility when creating multi-application schemes. The MIFARE DESFire 4K EV2 card is the most popular in this range. Its top-notch security makes it the perfect pick for access control use. For schemes using MIFARE Classic legacy products, the move to DESFire can offer huge benefits in terms of security and usability.


MIFARE DESFire EV3 is the latest evolution of the DESFire family, offering NFC compatibility and a focus on mobile credentials. The very latest in technology, MIFARE DESFire EV3 brings a host of new & improved features including faster performance, transaction timer and secure unique NFC message (SUN). It’s commonly used for applications including access management, closed-loop micro payment and student ID. In addition, DESFire EV3 is fully backwards compatible with DESFire EV1 and EV2, making upgrades seamless.

MIFARE Ultralight

MIFARE Ultralight cards offer low-cost, low-security, minimal-data space options that are fast and cheap to produce. Despite the low-security tag, these cards remain impervious to cloning attacks. They are mainly used for low-risk applications such as event entry, public transport ticketing, loyalty cards and disposable ticketing.


There are several generations of MIFARE Plus, including MIFARE Plus S & MIFARE Plus X, however the very latest generation, MIFARE Plus EV2, is recommended for new schemes.


MIFARE Plus EV2 brings enhanced performance and security features, along with support for mobile services and over-the-air updates. It provides a gateway for new Smart City applications and a cost-effective way to upgrade existing contactless schemes, such as those using MIFARE Classic, to AES security. It’s targeted at applications where security is crucial including public transportation, access management, closed-loop micropayment, campus and student ID cards, loyalty programs, electronic toll collection and car parking. It demonstrates longer read range capabilities and faster transaction times to its predecessor, so contactless services are more convenient to use. This delivers better experiences, with greater convenience in Smart City services.


MIFARE cards are highly secure and robust, presenting an impressive range that suits different use cases. We have an in depth understanding of the MIFARE range and are here to answer any questions you have. Get in touch with our team today and let us help you achieve this high level of security and convenience.

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