How to Troubleshoot Common Access Card Reader Problems

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A Common Access Card, or CAC, is used for physical and electronic access at many government sites, including military bases, hospitals and airports. When Common Access Cards function properly, you can enter a secured area or log onto a secure website just by scanning your Common Access Card's bar code. As with any electronic device, the Common Access Card reader can experience problems. If you're unable to use your Common Access Card, there are a few troubleshooting methods you should try before contacting technical support.

Things You'll Need

  • Window cleaner
  • Cloth
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Cotton swab
  • Look at your card for signs of damage. The CAC reader can malfunction, though a more likely scenario is that your Common Access Card itself is damaged. According to the Department of Defense, CACs are designed to resist tampering. Accidental scratches on the CAC or scuffs on the bar code surface can make the Common Access Card reader think that the card was tampered with, and you will be denied entry using your CAC. If your card is damaged, you will need a new one.

  • Clean the Common Access Card reader. A dirty card reader can prevent proper CAC operation. Some readers utilize an electronic laser scanner to read the CAC bar codes. You can clean the laser's windowed surface with a small spritzing of household window cleaner and a dry cloth. If your reader uses a swiper for bar code recognition, clean the swiping mechanism with a cotton swab dipped in isopropyl alcohol.

  • Update your reader's “Root CA” data. To do this, plug the CAC reader into a computer. The reader will automatically search for the latest software updates. If your CAC reader is used specifically for physical access, chances are it has not been connected to the Internet in a while, and you likely need some software updates for increased comparability with the latest Common Access Cards.

  • Clear your Internet cache if the Common Access Card reader is unable to authenticate online access. To clear the cache, open a Web browser on the computer to which the CAC reader is connected. Click “Tools,” “Internet Options,” and “Clear Cookies.” This may solve the Common Access Card reader's online access problems.

  • Photo Credit Lauren Burke/Photodisc/Getty Images
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