EMV stands for Europay, Mastercard, and Visa. EMV are the standards required for integrated circuit cards [or smart cards] to work with terminals for global interoperability and is managed by EMVCo. In other words, EMV sets the rules and requirements for EMV smart cards to work with EMV compliant points of sale.
As opposed to the typical magnetic strip on a card, EMV has a smart chip embedded into the card. These chips are called “contact” chips in cards and “contactless chips” for mobile devices such as your smartphone. Have you used NFC? When you take your smartphone and wave it in front of the terminal you have just become a subscriber to the EMV standardized payment process.
The integrated circuit chip, ICC, has much more powerful functionality than the traditional magnetic swipe and it packs a security punch too. ICCs can store information, process transactions, and perform cryptographic functions. Chip based EMV cards allow for multiple payment applications on the same card as standardized by EMV. The ICC also reduces risk of unauthorized payments and the digital signing [called application cryptograms or AC] increases the integrity of transaction. The EMV smart card offers: signature/online pin, offline enciphered pin, offline plaintext pin, or no cardholder verification method required; all of these options are set by the issuer in compliance with EMV.
Further, EMV sets the rules for the chip to have encoded security credentials and encrypted keys. These both prevent card cloning and card skimming.
“According to EMVCo approximately 1.2 billion EMV cards have been issued globally and 18.7 million POS terminals accept EMV cards as of Q1 2011. This represents 40.1% of the total payment cards in circulation and 71% of the POS terminals installed globally.” Quoted from smartcardalliance.org