Understanding Access
Control Systems

The Ultimate Guide to Electronic Access Control Systems

Discover Senseon

01

What is Access
Control?

02

Types of Access
Control

03

Methodology of
Access Control

04

Features and
Benefits

05

Choosing an
Access System

01 What is Access Control

Senseon access control system in retail display

Introduction

Consumers interact with electronic access control systems every day through keyless entry and smart home technology. The first thing that comes to mind is often the remote key, keypad, or key card used to enter an office, car, or home. However, there is a lot more to access control than a FOB and a card reader at the entrance of a door.

The behind the scenes technology determines which electronic access control system is the best application for the area. A commercial-grade access control system provides the initial classification of who gets into the facility and who doesn’t, along with a second level of security, controlling who has access what areas of the establishment down to each file cabinet or drawer containing sensitive information. Sophisticated systems can differentiate access by user, track activity, and provide security logs for administrators. Some systems communicate and coordinate with other security measures for a streamlined and integrated approach to protecting the company, its employees, its assets, and its data.

“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?

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.

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Computer-based electronic access control systems

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.

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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

“In most cases, the client is implementing high security to comply with government regulations. For instance, Dept. of Defense contractors usually have to comply with UL2050 requirements or meet the security needs of their clients. Drug companies often have to comply with the Drug Enforcement Agency requirements for access to controlled substances. In most cases, the government regulations will dictate the types of security systems that can be used for these requirements.”⁴

Secure Sensitive Data and Assets

Any company handling or processing sensitive data, intellectual property, or valuable assets require additional measures to ensure the safety and security of the information and assets under stewardship.

Gather and Use Data to Improve Operations

Monitoring through an electronic access control system increases the ability to identify vulnerabilities in current policies and procedures. Managers and administrators can then make positive changes to existing processes to reduce the risk of loss.

How Access Control Systems Operate

An access control system includes the following steps:

How Access Control Systems Operate include the following steps
How Access Control Systems Operate

There are Three Key Elements to the Operations Process

  • The User Facing Experience
  • The Administration Facing Experience
  • The Infrastructure
The User Facing Experience

The User Facing Experience includes an access card, the card reader, and the control panel. Most people are familiar with key cards, ID badges, and other forms of security credentials. The user presents the access code and the system approves or rejects the request for entry. Access cards can include a keypad, bio-metric, a swipe, tap, or a proximity card. Proximity cards operate when the user is within a short distance, typically two to six inches, from the reader. Proximity readers can communicate with an ID badge, FOB, key, card, or smartphone. Access management control systems record the activity, once the user activates the reader to verify credentials. “Innovations are having a profound effect on the user experience. Where security may have been seen as a barrier or a hindrance in the past, it is now enabling a truly seamless experience.” ⁵ 

The Administration Facing Experience

The Administration Facing Experience typically includes a management dashboard or portal where the administrator, manager, security, or IT personnel will gain access to the system. The dashboard allows authorized personnel to add or delete users, change user credentials, set the parameters for entry to the secure area, and decide who will have access to what areas under which circumstances. The dashboard often uses cloud storage, giving administrators the ability to access the system from anywhere. Programmers can automate certain processes and reports and connect them to other systems within the company. For example, a programmer could design the system to add user credentials during the on boarding process and delete credentials upon termination. While most of the administrative side of access control involves automated processes through software, the system does require a manual entry when adding, changing, or terminating access.

The Infrastructure

The infrastructure of the system includes the locking device, the access control panel, cables, and the server. Electronic locking systems may continue to use a deadbolt to secure entry to interior and exterior doors. File cabinets, desks, and other access points frequently use E-locks. For example, Senseon offers both side-mounted and under-mounted E-locks, which can secure any desk or cabinet door or drawer will 250 pounds of brake force, without requiring a bulky deadbolt lock.

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

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.

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Fail Secure

Fail-Secure systems require electrical power to release the access control system. Even in the event of a power failure, the system remains intact, maintaining

security until the restoration of power, or a system override releases the lock. Fail-secure locks offer the highest level of security available. The level of security needed, items secured, fire codes, and compliance regulations impact which system works best in the given application.

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The server stores credentials in a database. When a user requests entry, the system compares the presented credentials with the database.

The Server

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.

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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.

Electromechanical Locks VS Electromagnetic Locks

The Basics

Electromechanical (E-Locks)

Consists of:

The mechanical strike will secure the lock and hold the deadbolt (or plate) in place.

The mechanical strike will secure the lock
and hold the deadbolt (or plate) in place.

Electromagnetic (Mag-Locks)

Consists of:

An electrical current will pass through the electromagnetic plate, causing a magnetic force to attract and hold the armature plate in place.

An electrical current will pass through the
electromagnetic plate, causing a magnetic
force to attract and hold the armature plate
in place.

Key Benefits

Electromechanical (E-Locks)

1.Can be used (combined with
a conventional lock) in a
power outage

2. Door/drawer only opens
when activated by system

3. Release protocols: keypad,
FOB, wristband, or swipecard

4. Can operate as fail-safe or
fail-secure

Electromagnetic (Mag-Locks)

1.No interconnecting parts,
making it easy to install
and operate

2. High-level of security provided
constant electrical current

3. Release protocols: keypad,
FOB, wristband, or swipecard

4. Design is always fail-safe

Fail-secure & Fail-safe Locks

Fail-Secure Locks

Requires power to release the lock. In the event of a power failure, the door/drawer remains locked until someone activates an override.

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.

Faile Safe Vs Fail Secure Locking Mechanisms

Modern Access Control Systems

Locking Devices For Cabinets & Drawers Can Provide:

Audit Trail

Limit Entry by ID Card

Senseon Sidemount

Manage Credentials

Dual Credential Entry

Audit Trail

Manage Credentials

Senseon Sidemount

Limit Entry
by ID Card

Dual Credential
Entry

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.

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Integrated Systems

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.

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Essential Components of an Electronic Access Control System

Essential Components of an Electronic Access Control System

Essential Components of an Electronic Access Control System

The term access control often brings images of vaults, secure elevators, and buildings. However, today’s access control also includes rooms, workstations, file cabinets, desk drawers, along with equipment like printers or computers.

A typical system has two major components: One controlling the access to a physical location and a system verifying the presence of authorized personnel. The electronic access controlling the physical location, such as a door, typically contains several elements: The lock, the reader, a control panel to authenticate the credentials, along with access control hardware and software.

  • Presenting Credentials
  • Single or Multi-factor Verification
  • Contactless cards
Presenting Credentials

Users carry credentials on access cards, key cards, ID badges, or an app on a smartphone. The user presents credentials at an access control point, which could be an exterior or interior door to a building or office, a gate (such as in a parking garage or gated community), an elevator, a turnstile, cabinet doors, and drawers, or other barriers to entry. The lock secures the door by electronic means, which could be a stand-alone unit operated with a switch or level or part of a bigger system. Credentials involve a tangible or physical object or action. Something the individual has (a keycard or access badge), something they know (a passcode or PIN), or something they are (a biometric measure such as fingerprint or eye scan), or a combination of these.

Single or Multi-factor Verification

Systems will require either single or multiple factor verification. Multiple factor verification requires authentication of two or more sets of credentials before the system will authorize entry. For instance, an individual might need to present both a key card and a password. Two-factor verification is the most common way to add an additional layer of security. Another level of security requires credentials from two different individuals rather than two forms of identification from one individual. Duel authentication can prevent internal security breaches.

Contactless cards

Contactless cards use near field communication⁶ to connect the device holding credentials with the reader. Technology includes radio frequency identification (RFID), QR codes, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth. With near field communication, users can unlock a door or drawer once they are within two to six inches of the reader, without touching the device.

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.

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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

    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

    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.

Types of Electronic Access Control Management Systems

Electronic locking systems consist of either keypad, Key FOBs, or remote access locks. Access control management systems can combine technologies for increased reliability and convenience.

  • Keypads and Touchscreens

    Keypads and Touchscreens are at the low end of electronic locking systems. The unit replaces the key ...

    Keypads and Touchscreens are at the low end of electronic locking systems. The unit replaces the key to a deadbolt or door with a keypad or touch screen. Most units have a back-up physical key. Operating with a basic reader, the user enters a preprogrammed code. Provided the code matches, the system releases the lock. The keypad can accept multiple codes and temporary codes. Touch screens can accept a password, PIN, or biometric, such as a fingerprint.

  • Biometric Readers

    Biometric Readers typically use fingerprints to verify credentials but can use other biometrics such ...

    Biometric Readers typically use fingerprints to verify credentials but can use other biometrics such as a palm scan, retina scan, or voice activation. The scanner converts the biometric measure into a numerical template, which serves as credentials. Scanners can approve multiple users and temporary access. The key benefit of biometric readers is the difficulty in faking credentials or bypassing the system. The downside is the higher cost. The original authorization requires the physical presence of the user to present the biometric measure used. It takes more time to initiate a code, and biometric systems have the highest incidence of system failure. For instance, an injury to the index finger could lead to the rejection of an authorized individual because the reader cannot match the print with the one in the system.

  • Remote Access or Smart Locks

    Remote Access or Smart Locks allow the user to control the lock without proximity requirements. Rath ...

    Remote Access or Smart Locks allow the user to control the lock without proximity requirements. Rather than being at the location, the locks operate based on software transmitted through Bluetooth, WiFi connections, or Z-wave technologies. Remote access allows the user to lock or unlock doors or drawers from a remote location. The system can also send alarms and updates when a door is locked, unlocked, or open. Users can enter credentials from a smartphone, computer, or tablet. Smart locks allow users to restrict access to