iOS 16 Includes Smart Card Reader Support!

Today, iOS 16 was released and it has a feature that was not publicly announced before the release: support for Smart Cards. iOS 16 brings support for CCID-compliant smart card readers and PIV smart cards. Typically every government employee and active duty military is issued a smart card and uses it for access to smart card protected websites to check their pay, access training, send messages over Teams, access webmail, and more. We have been testing smart card support on iOS 16 over the past few months and it works well. We have been providing feedback to Apple on support for different types of readers and different iOS devices, but generally, it works out of the box as you would expect.

If you already have a smart card reader, you can test it by plugging it into an iPhone or iPad using an adapter appropriate for your device. The Apple adapter converts USB-A to Lightning or USB-C. Download our free Smart Card Utility app from the App Store to view the certificates, see how many PIN attempts remain, or (if the card is locked) change the PIN or verify the PIN. Or see certificates that are inserted into iOS. It has a free trial and is a great way to check out smart card support.

Once you plug in the smart card reader, you can insert your PIV smart card and the certificates are automatically available for use in Safari, apps, VPN, Wireless, and anything else that opts in. When you visit a website that supports CAC / PIV authentication (or any certificate-based authentication), you’ll be prompted with the inserted certificates as long as the reader and smart card are plugged in.

We have found that not all readers work on all iOS devices. It depends on how much power the reader draws, the adapter used, the specific reader, and the iOS device. To simplify getting a reader to work with iOS 16, we are releasing the Smart Card Utility Desktop Reader. It comes with a reader that works with all iOS devices that support iOS 16. We also include USB-C and Lightning adapters so it contains everything you need including the Smart Card Utility app.

The Smart Card Utility app has been updated to support iOS 16 readers, including changing PIN and PIN verification. As with prior versions of Smart Card Utility, you can view the certificates on your smart card. New in version 4 is the ability to see any certificates that have been inserted into the system from a smart card reader or an app.

Technical Details

Smart Card support in iOS 16 is enabled with a built-in CryptoTokenKit extension. Apple appears to have included all the same functionality from macOS to iOS to support smart cards. When a smart card is plugged in and a smart card is inserted, an app can register for notification events and get access to the smart card and reader. In the past, we have used this on macOS to read the certificates from the reader, change the PIN, and read the capabilities from the reader and card. This now all works on iOS and we have added this functionality for Smart Card Utility for iOS.

Looking Forward

Native smart card support for iOS has long been a request for government and military personnel. Our most popular reader is the wireless Smart Card Utility Bluetooth Reader which is a perfect companion for a mobile device. With our new Desktop reader, we are adding in a TAA Compliant wired reader that joins our other Lightning and USB-C readers. We will continue to sell the other wired readers to support older versions of iOS because they have some unique features that make customers love them. We also see the native support of smart card readers as a great way for more people to use their smart cards with their iPhone or iPad and we are planning a host of apps to support smart cards on iOS.