What can PaperCut read from a card?

Common PaperCut card reader questions

There are some PaperCut card reader questions that haunt all of us here at Selectec HQ because we typically get asked them every day 🙂


So what will PaperCut read from the cards?

To be fair, this isn’t really a PaperCut issue but depends more on the card reader itself.



If barcodes are being used the reader will need to be able to read the specific barcode symbology (most in the UK are Code39 or Telepen in our experience) and readers can usually be configured to read the correct symbology. It has been a long time since we’ve installed a barcode reader.


Magnetic Stripe


Magnetic stripe cards have 3 tracks of information. It is often track 2 that is used and because of this most readers read track two, but if you have the information on another track then you can get readers for that track or even multi-track readers.


Seems simple but there are many types of contactless cards (RFID 125 kHz, Motorola/Indala W26, Motorola/Indala W27, Motorola/Indala ABA Track II, Motorola/Indala Lite, Motorola/Indala , KANTECH, HID Prox, Proxlite, MIFARE, MIFARE + RFID 125 kHz, LEGIC Advant, TIRIS 134 kHz, COTAG, MULTI ISO, PAC, HID UDF, HID iClass, HiTAG, HiTAG2 etc.). With contactless cards, readers would normally read the unique serial number embedded on the card.

This can get fairly complicated so we will start at the beginning. Let’s take for example a Classic MIFARE 1k card as these are encountered in many PaperCut sites.

A MIFARE Classic 1K card has 1024 bytes of storage, split into 16 sectors. Each sector is protected by two different keys, called A and B (more on this later). 16 bytes per sector are reserved for the keys and access conditions and cannot normally be used for user data. Also, the very first 16 bytes contain the serial number of the card and certain other manufacturer data, are read-only and live in sector zero.

This brings the total storage capacity of these cards down to 752 bytes for a Classic 1k MIFARE card. None of this is really relevant but we thought it may be interesting for some people. When a Mifare card is first created in the factory it has its first sector, sector zero, programmed with a unique serial number. This is set by the factory into read-only memory – so this number cannot be changed and stays with the card.

With a MIFARE reader attached to a copier, the reader simply reads the unique ID. PaperCut will lookup that number against its database of users and log on the correct user. If no user is found, PaperCut will prompt you to assign the card to a user account and ask for your network username and password.
This self-registration service takes away all the administration of card numbers by staff members. Before self-registration, a site needed to know the serial numbers for each card and batch import them into PaperCut. Now this isn’t always too much of a problem but many sites don’t actually know the serial number of cards and often the card supplier does not have a record either, so the process often involved an IT staff member with a card reader and a lot of copy and pasting.

Thankfully self-registration works really well. It’s especially handy if users lose a card as they can just be issued with a new card and that’s all the admin it takes. Please note that self-registration is only available on supported devices.


PaperCut and cashless catering or door access?

Often the contactless card that a site uses is also used for other systems, such as door access or cashless catering. Whoever provided these systems is often using other sectors on the cards to hold information. This data is encrypted and will often only be able to be read by the readers provided with the system and some middleware to decrypt the data. This is fairly common and PaperCut is more than happy to work alongside these systems as it will simply read the serial number from the card (in sector zero).
PaperCut and the other system won’t know or care about each other they can both read different numbers from a card, but allow you to login to different systems using the same card.

One thing to note is that if a cashless catering system is in use and a purse is held on the card, that money is just used for the catering. PaperCut keeps its own “funds” in its database and the catering software keeps its funds in its own database.  It may be possible to integrate the two stores of money but this requires customisation. Please contact us for further information.


Can I read different sectors?

Now if reading the serial number from the card is not good enough (it’s yet to be a problem) then it may be possible to read one of the numbers on the other sectors. To do this you will need a special type of card reader, something the industry calls a “playback reader”. We have no idea why they are called playback readers but they are a similar cost and look exactly the same as other readers. It’s just the firmware that acts differently.

These playback readers can be programmed via a downloadable configuration utility to read certain sectors from a card. It’s a simple matter of ticking a box for the sector you wish to read and then click “save”. This then flashes the reader’s firmware.

Programming the card reader to look at a particular sector and getting anything out of it are unfortunately two different things. Most sectors would be encrypted by whoever put the information on the card to start with (the door access or cashless catering supplier for example) so the configuration utility needs to have an encryption key entered into it, so it can read from that sector. Most people protect a MIFARE card with 2 keys (A and B).

Key A normally reads the sector while key B allows you to read and write to the sector. You would only need key A as all we wish to do is read the information on the chosen sector. We expect most companies would be happy to give you the key A information if you are using the systems they supply.

Remember – PaperCut doesn’t care what number is on the card and the site shouldn’t worry either. No one ever sees that number. Trying to get PaperCut and door access/cashless catering to read the same number is not required.


What we do

We always ask for a sample card before suggesting what reader type will be best for the situation and, of course, the reader type also depends on the hardware you have.

Any questions or comments, just get in touch for a chat and we will do our best to answer any queries and advise you of the best option for your specific setup.

Selectec is happy to offer a 40-day trial of PaperCut MF, get in touch and we’ll set you up!

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Selectec have been a fantastic partner to Balreed with a relationship stretching back over 7 years, I can thoroughly recommend them as a forward thinking and innovative business that has a real focus on client service and support

Rory Gallagher Balreed Group
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