To implement an access control policy, a number of different components have to be in place:
These components form the basis of an electronic access control system, which replaces traditional systems based on locks and keys. In the modern system, the ‘lock’ is the access control reader and access control unit, and the ‘key’ is the user’s device for presenting credentials.
There is also a growing trend towards the adoption of touchless access control technologies, which was driven by the challenges of the pandemic. To improve the analysis of data from access control systems, security teams are also now using artificial intelligence techniques.
Users can present their credentials in a number of different ways, using approved devices, codes or other credentials provided by the security manager.
PIN codes – The user enters a PIN code to a keypad to get access rights. The PIN can be a general code or a code that is unique to each user. Unique codes are essential for areas where higher security is required.
Key cards – Key cards incorporate embedded signals or codes on a magnetic strip. With a swipe card, users swipe the card through the reader. Cards with embedded codes are known as proximity cards; the user simply presents the card, which communicates with the reader using RFID technology.
Key fobs – Key fobs provide the same RFID functionality as key cards, but are more convenient for users.
Mobile credentials – Users download an approved app to their smartphones which validates their identity for keyless door entry. When they approach a door reader, they activate the ‘unlock’ function on the app to have access rights.
Biometrics - Biometric techniques include fingerprint reading, facial recognition and iris scanning to validate credentials. They can be used as the main method of authentication or used in conjunction with other methods of presenting credentials to add an extra layer of protection, particularly for high-security areas.
Access control devices and readers
The second essential component is the access control reader fitted to the door, gate, or other form of entry. The reader must be compatible with the methods or devices used to validate users. It’s important to select a reader that has the ability to support multiple existing and future types of credentials - not all readers have that capability. Replacing readers that are not future-proof can be costly and time consuming.
Keypad PIN readers – Users key in a PIN using the keypad. The system is simple and convenient but can be compromised by users sharing PINs or intruders using stolen credentials.
Swipe card readers – These readers work in conjunction with key cards that users swipe through the reader. Although these readers are secure, they may require frequent maintenance and card replacement if they are used in areas of heavy traffic.
RFID door lock readers – This type of reader responds to signals sent from a user’s RFID-enabled credential. They are also known as proximity readers, and respond when a user’s device is within range. However, they can be prone to accidental opening if a user with a valid card passes by within range, but doesn’t intend to enter the secured area.
Biometric readers – These readers incorporate sophisticated scanners that can validate a physical attribute, such as a face, fingerprint, or iris. They can also work in conjunction with smartphones that feature biometric login as a form of highly secure two-factor authentication.
Smart door lock readers – A new generation of smart door readers can increase flexibility and convenience for employees by operating in conjunction with a number of different devices, such as smartphones, key cards and key fobs. They can be used to enforce single or two-factor authentication by responding to multiple devices.
Access control units
Access control units are the ‘brains’ of the system. They are linked to databases or directories that include names and access levels of authorized users. When users present their credentials, the reader contacts the access control unit, interrogates the database and receives an ‘open’ or ‘deny access’ response that activates the reader.
The effectiveness of the control unit depends on the accuracy of the information in the database. That’s why identity access management is an essential part of access control.
Access control software
Software applications act as the link between the various components of an access control system. Applications can be supported with on-premise, browser-based, cloud-based or mobile platforms.
Security teams use the software to manage and update user credentials, as well as gathering data on entry events from the system for analysis and audit.
Access control software can also be used to monitor hardware performance and alert security teams to faults or other operational problems.
Towards touchless access control
The recent pandemic highlighted the importance of touchless technologies in protecting employees and visitors at work. Adopting touchless access control solutions can ensure that same level of protection, as well as maintain security.
Touchless technology can also improve the experience for both employees and visitors. For example, automating the reception process with touchless entry improves convenience. It also makes a great first impression, as well as reduces delays and minimizes non-essential contact.
Integrating access control with AI
Access control systems provide valuable data on usage and incidents. By applying artificial intelligence techniques which ‘learn’ patterns of behavior, security teams can quickly recognize unusual events that may represent a security risk. Teams can also use AI techniques to quickly analyze data and respond to real or potential incidents faster.
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