Elevator access control

The Unique Security Vulnerabilities of Elevators and How to Solve Them

When it comes to access control, securing the elevator might not be top on your priority list—but it should be. Elevators are high-traffic areas that are prone to a number of security vulnerabilities and they pose additional challenges from a building security perspective. Understand these vulnerabilities (and their solutions) to better safeguard your facility.

How Are Elevators Vulnerable?

There are approximately 900,000 elevators in the world giving 325 million rides a day. Here are four security vulnerabilities that every building manager with an elevator needs to consider to keep these elevators safe:

1. Elevator Hitchhikers

Whether you have a keycard or smartphone-based access control system, it’s natural for people without this kind of official access to hop on board the elevator for a ride. An intruder could take advantage of this and follow someone into the elevator. Most elevator riders will not serve as “de-facto security guards” who challenge and stop others from hitchhiking or “tailgating” a ride - especially when the elevator has a lot of traffic.

Solution: Install turnstiles that limit access to the main lobby where people enter the elevator. 

2. Elevator Vultures

When a hitchhiker gains access to the elevator, it might not be possible to go to a specific floor without the right code or keycard. That’s when the intruder becomes an “elevator vulture,” who hangs out in the elevator and waits for someone else to push the button for his desired floor. The busier the building, the more often the elevator goes to every floor—and the faster the vulture gets to where he wants to go.

Solution: Make sure each elevator floor access control requires individuals to pass through a barrier door after exiting the elevator.

3. Button Pushers

Some individuals in your building will have a keycard or smartphone with universal access, for example, a manager, janitor or maintenance person. These individuals might not be attentive to what’s happening after they unlock the elevator. An elevator “hitchhiker” or “vulture” might gain instant access to any level he or she desires by pushing the button at just the right moment and piggybacking onto the universal access.

Solution: Require elevator riders to use their smartphones or keycards both when calling the elevator and when choosing the desired floor. Limit the system to accept only one button push per swipe. This will also provide better reporting on exactly who has sent the elevator to which floor and when. 

4. Fire Mode Vulnerabilities

Building codes require every elevator to have a “fire service mode.” You’ll find articles on the Internet about how to “hack” elevators with the fire service mode. When you activate this feature—by pressing a readily visible button—you bypass all the security features and elevator access control systems. Although the button calls the police and fire department, an intruder could gain fast access to any level by pressing the emergency button.

In addition, fire service keys are usually the same for all elevators built by a specific brand. Fire departments use these keys to override elevator security in emergency situations, but they’re readily available for purchase online. A criminal in possession of this key gains immediate access to any floor.

Solution: Make sure your security personnel, office managers and other important parties receive an immediate notification as soon as anyone activates the fire service mode or uses a fire service key. This allows you to dispatch police and investigate the matter.

The Catchall Elevator Access Control Technology

It’s important to remember that your elevators will always represent an access security vulnerability. Therefore, you must provide additional ways of controlling access to and around your elevators to limit these risks. Building and office managers also need to educate employees and residents on common elevator security concerns and how to avoid them.

Finally, most modern buildings use keycard access systems, PIN codes or physical keys to keep the criminals at bay. At Openpath, we’ve taken elevator security to the “next level” with smartphone access control, making elevator access control easier and simpler for everyone. Smartphone credentials offer an additional layer of security by enabling multi-factor authentication, and eliminate shared (or lost or stolen) keycards. Contact us now to learn how Openpath can help you resolve your unique elevator security challenges.

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