The Ultimate Guide to Electronic Access Control Systems
01 What is Access Control
“There is no doubt that access control technology is progressing and evolving at the fastest pace ever in the security industry. And the need for enhanced security due to new sources of threats, increased liability, and even mandated compliance has made more funds available to public and private entities to enhance security. As a result, more and more money has been allocated in recent years to help keep unwanted people from entering facilities.”
– Security Magazine, in June 2019, reports
The following information outlines the components and operation protocols of electronic access control systems, the moving parts necessary for seamless implementation, features that can substantially increase security levels, and where to use which systems to optimize efficiency.
What are Electronic Access Control Systems?
What are Electronic Access Control Systems?
Access control systems restrict entrance to secure areas of a property, building, room, file cabinet, drawer, or other area containing sensitive or proprietary information, assets, or data. The automated nature of the system provides 24/7 protection along with 24/7 access. As the front line of defense, companies use locks combined with log-in credentials to enhance traditional security measures. Any space requiring limited access to authorized personnel only should have an access control system in place.
Businesses today want to do more than simply restrict entry. They want to monitor and manage access. Increased security and monitoring require more than a deadbolt and keyless lock. It requires an access management system. One that controls who may enter, where they may go, and when they have permission to be in a secure location.
Computer-based electronic access control systems marry the needs of physical security with the capabilities of information security. With the use of credentials such as codes, FOB, key cards, or biometrics, systems have the capability to provide quick and convenient access to authorized personnel, while tracking and monitoring the movement of those who enter. New technologies have rapidly increased not only the ability to restrict access to secure areas, but also the ability to monitor and manage that access through electronic means to better protect assets and data.
Users gain entry after the system verifies the credentials presented. The software tells the system when to unlock the door, records the event, and can relax the area to maintain security. In the event of credential failure, the system records the failure and might activate back up security, such as video cameras, alarms, or electronic notifications. Attempts of forcible entry will also record the breach and activate an alarm.
Security Information Watch in an industry report stated, “The advancements being made in mobile technologies, cloud technologies, Artificial Intelligence (AI), biometrics on mobile devices, and wearables, access control is now more integrated with what is considered “state of the art” technology than ever before.” ²
There is a very significant amount of innovation and new products that are fundamentally shifting how access control is delivered and utilized.” ³
Why Companies Choose Access Control Systems
The primary reason organizations choose access control systems over traditional lock and keys is the increased level of security. Systems can effectively prevent unauthorized individuals from gaining access to
secure content, assets, or data within the company.
Many industries require businesses to meet compliance standards, send reports to government agencies, and maintain policies and procedures to ensure all operations meet the laws and standards for the industry.
Compliance requirements often include protecting assets and client data. Industries impacted by extensive compliance requirements include healthcare, financial services, data centers, and SaaS providers.
Reduce Internal Theft
For many businesses, internal theft significantly impacts the bottom line. Access control systems create checks and balances by tracking the entry and exit to secure areas. Monitored systems can reduce losses, catch
incidents of internal theft, and provide evidence for the prosecution.
Fail-Safe Versus Fail Secure Systems
Along with force securing a locking system, each system functions as a fail-safe or fail-secure locking device.
A Fail-Safe lock remains unlocked until an electrical current activates the lock. The power requirement creates a system vulnerability because natural disasters,
storms, or sabotage can create a power failure, leaving an area unsecured.
The server stores credentials in a database. When a user requests entry, the system compares the presented credentials with the database.
The best access control systems allow real-time changes to the database. For instance, upon termination, an employee will immediately cease to have access to a secure area, and a new hire will instantly gain access to approved locations.
Servers can be dedicated to a particular lock or part of a larger system. Windows or iOS-based programs that include cloud storage allow management or administrators to make changes to the database through any secure internet connection.
The most sophisticated servers track activity in any secure zone and document when someone enters or leaves the area with a time and date stamp, logging each entry and exit to an individual. Logs allow a manager, IT personnel, or security to view activity at a specific location over a particular timeframe. Standalone units typically store credentials at the reader rather on a centralized control panel. Administrators can access the database at the reader or through an app.
02 Types Of Access Control
Electromechanical Locks VS Electromagnetic Locks
Technological advancements have removed dependence on conventional lock and pin tumbler systems, making way for a more secure, flexible, and affordable way to protect everything from buildings to individual drawers and doors in an office or home.
Fail-secure & Fail-safe Locks
Requires power to remain active. A Loss of power will unlock door/drawer causing application to remain unsecured until the power comes back online.
Standalone Locking Systems Versus Integrated Systems
Standalone Locking Systems
Standalone access controls are independent and do not communicate with other security networks within an office or building. Integrated access control, on the other hand, can communicate with existing systems to create a comprehensive security network for the entire building or
complex. In some cases, the integration will include compatibility with the software used by other departments such as HR.
The key benefit of integrated systems is that everything works together for a more seamless user experience. The downside is that it can be more expensive to install and operate because it requires software that can communicate with multiple systems.
It is common to integrate security systems to coordinate access control measures with video surveillance, intruder alarms, perimeter security, or fire detection systems. Having all elements of security working in tandem improves the efficiency of the system, reduces redundancy, and streamlines implementation.
Essential Components of an Electronic Access Control System
Credential Readers and Control Panels
A reader can be a keypad with code entry, a card reader using a FOB, key card, or smart device, or a biometric reader verifying the credentials through the individual’s biometrics. The reader communicates with a control panel, which will
verify the credentials presented against an approved access list. The approval process involves communication between the reader and a host, server, or control panel. A central control system can operate from a computer as opposed to a reader at the site of the lock. Access control readers are classified by function: There are basic readers, semi-intelligent readers, and intelligent readers. Each offers different levels of functionality.
Basic Readers without Intelligent Capacities
The reader and control panel is at the point of entry. Credentials typically involve a PIN, passcode, or biometric identification such as a fingerprint entered on a keypad. A basic reader provides the lowest level of security and only comes as a standalone device.
Semi-intelligent readers include the lock and contact needed to control the door hardware but does n ...
Semi-intelligent readers include the lock and contact needed to control the door hardware but does not make access decisions. The reader and control panel is at the point of entry. When an individual presents credentials, the reader communicates with the main controller and unlocks the door if the credentials match the approved access list. Administrators can make changes to credentials at the reader or remotely depending on the system. To operate the unit must have an active connection to the main controller. Semi-intelligent readers can connect to multiple locks using the same reader or portal. Provides a high level of security but cannot integrate with other security systems and is only available as a stand-alone device.
Intelligent readers possess the inputs and outputs necessary to control door hardware along with the ...
Intelligent readers possess the inputs and outputs necessary to control door hardware along with the memory and processing power to independently make access decisions. Intelligent readers have the most flexibility and can work as an independent unit or in conjunction with other security measures. Managers can control entry remotely, track entrance and exits using a tracking log, and operate multiple locks and points of entry from the same control panel. Used in settings where access control is an integral part of operational security and the need for additional tracking features exists.
Use of Sub-Controllers
Both semi-intelligent and intelligent readers have the capability of controlling multiple locks. Eac ...
Both semi-intelligent and intelligent readers have the capability of controlling multiple locks. Each reader connects to a sub-controller, which then connects to the central control panel. The sub-controller forwards access credentials to the main server to authenticate credentials and unlock a door, drawer, or cabinet. The use of sub-controllers can reduce the load on the main controller and lower the overall cost of securing an area. For example, if an office has 15 file cabinets or desk drawers containing secure information, a single system could connect all the drawers to the same main controller through sub-controllers.
Integrated Control Access Systems using main Controllers and Intelligent Readers.
In this case, the door or drawer hardware connects directly to either a semi-intelligent or intellig ...
In this case, the door or drawer hardware connects directly to either a semi-intelligent or intelligent reader. The reader could forward credentials to the main controller or contain an internal database. The reader can approve credentials and record events if an issue arises with the connection to the main controller. Most intelligent readers have internal databases where most semi-intelligent readers do not.
Main Controllers Connected to a Network
Main controllers connected to a network operating in much the same way as integrated control access ...
Main controllers connected to a network operating in much the same way as integrated control access systems. The key advantage is speed and tracking. The network interface transmits data quickly, allows remote changes to the credentials. Computer-based systems are responsive and work in tandem with other security measures such as video surveillance or alarms. Network integration adds important features used by larger organizations. For instance, systems can use the existing infrastructure without the need to install new lines of communication through software programs. Network access control systems give administrators more control, more oversight capabilities, can accommodate a higher number of users, and offer remote troubleshooting. The controller can initiate an alarm to the host PC and at the reader location, in the event of failed credentials or attempted forced entry. It is also possible to coordinate the system across multiple locations separated by distance. The downside is that network connections increase vulnerability to cyber security breaches, which can compromise both credentials and the data secured within the system. Heavy internet traffic can also cause delays in communication between the main controller and the reader.