‘Smart’ Technology Enhances Access Control

Access control cards are an essential part of commercial security systems—keeping designated areas secure and safe by controlling entry or restricting access within a space. With the wave or swipe of a card, people can gain access to an entire facility, while management can track the exact times of entry and exit.

Access cards are tied to a person’s identity through a physical access control (PAC) system, which involves a two-step process that links a card to a person after the card has been printed. Some card personalization software systems can also connect to and update the PAC system after the card has been personalized.

“The amount of personalization that occurs with access cards depends on what type of information and security is put on the card, for example, encoding a smart card with unique data, certificates and/or credentials,” said Martin Hoff, Entrust Datacard’s product marketing manager of hardware.

Technological advancements in security systems, including the deployment of wireless technology, are enhancing access control.

“Security is a top concern for both private and public entities—many industries are transitioning to smart cards,” added Hoff. Smart cards are the most secure type of access card and are used most often in government, health care and financial sectors, while proximity (prox) cards are commonly used in higher education and enterprise.”

Digital Identity is Key to Security
Although technology continues to evolve and advance, when it comes to a trusted identity, physical cards will continue to play a valued role in securely granting or restricting access—especially in the health care and government sectors. The combination of a physical card with a digital identity is powerful and provides multi-layered security.

“Access cards are encoded with a unique decimal number, which is put in the system and linked to the user’s record,” said Howard Albrow, HID Global’s NPI product line manager of PACS credentials. “Typically, an access control card does not contain any personal identifiable information. But through the system, it can link to a data record that may hold personal identifiable information.”

3 Types of Access Control Cards
There are two categories of access control cards—nonsecure and secure—and both provide ways to monitor who is entering or exiting a building. A proximity card is the most common type of access card for commercial and residential buildings; however they offer little security.

Typically the size of a credit card, an access card usually lasts five to 10 years before it has to be replaced. However, many factors affect the durability and lifespan of the card, such as the type of card substrate and personalization techniques used, how the card is stored and if the card is resistant to chemicals, abrasion, moisture and ultraviolet light.

Although the three types of access control cards—proximity, magnetic stripe and smart—may look the same, the technologies driving them vary significantly.

Prox cards can be made of several different materials, but they all work by being held close to a card reader, without needing to make physical contact with the reader. Prox cards are an older technology and a low-security card.

Magnetic stripe cards are one of the oldest forms of access cards and offer minimal security. They are copied very easily and are typically used in low-security settings like hotels. They work by swiping a magnetic stripe through a card reader (like a credit card).

The most recent advancement in the access control card market segment—smart cards—were developed with the goal of being hard to duplicate. The three types of smart cards—SEOS, MIFARE DESFire EV2, iCLASS SE—offer the most security, operating at 13.56Mhz (compared to a prox card which operates at 125kHz). Smart cards feature an embedded integrated circuit and are capable of writing data in addition to reading it, which allows the cards to store more data than traditional prox cards, supporting a host of credential options. Smart cards can provide personal identification, authentication, data storage and application processing. They can be combined with other card technologies for increased security.

“Smart cards are the best fit for commercial and residential building access because they provide greater security with an encrypted credential that must be decrypted by a reader,” said Hoff. “It’s much easier to spoof proximity and magnetic stripe cards.”

Access Control: Future Trends
While access cards still play a strong role in the access control market, some companies are moving toward smartphone Bluetooth-enabled technology to give residents frictionless access through secured doors, elevators and turnstiles. The introduction of mobile credentials has the potential to revolutionize the access control industry. Instead of carrying and swiping a card, a phone’s technology can help authenticate identity and grant entry.

“There has been a tremendous uptick in the popularity of mobile credentials,” said Albrow. “A mobile credential can be used via a smartphone to interact with an access control reader in the place of a physical card, which is more convenient, allows greater flexibility, improves privacy and can also lower the maintenance costs of credential management for end users.”

Biometric technology is also increasing with fingerprint recognition and iris scanning. In some cases, multiple methods of biometric identification are combined with the use of a card (or used in place of a card) for even greater security.

Hoff added, “Cards will continue to be used for access, but there is a definite shift to mobile credentials and biometrics.”

Want More Industry Insider Insights or a Glimpse into Global Card Trends?
For three decades, ICMA has represented the interests of the card manufacturing industry—which includes manufacturers, personalizers, issuers and suppliers—as its leading global association.

ICMA offers regular educational opportunities, including the web-based Card Industry Training & Education program, which provides information on key areas of the industry, as well as tutorials and webinars from industry experts. ICMA also provides reports on the card market and on personalization and fulfillment statistics to keep members informed of emerging trends and changing forecasts.

Throughout the year, ICMA members have the opportunity to share insights and knowledge by giving presentations at ICMA events, webcasts and tutorials.

The organization hosts three conferences each year. The main event is the annual Card Manufacturing & Personalization EXPO and the other two conferences are CardTREX North America and CardTREX Europe.

To learn more about the benefits of ICMA membership, click here.