Access Control 101

An access control system is an electronic system which works in a network. This network consists of readers which connect to a central point. Together, this controls who can enter a building, only allowing those with the authorized ID code to enter. An access card works by sending an ID number via its internal chip to the antenna coil of the receiver. When held next to the electronic reader required for giving access, the encoded number is transmitted to the reader by radiofrequency waves. A key card works by storing data on itself, which is transmitted to the reader. If the card has an authorized ID number, the access control system will allow the user to enter the building by unlocking the door of the building.

When implementing an access control system, there are many factors to consider. Security should be your top concern: hardware must be tamper-proof, software should be updated routinely to protect against potential vulnerabilities, and credentials should not be unencrypted, easily copied, or shared. Also, look for a system that enables modern security practices like multifactor authentication to ensure that administrative control stays in the right hands. User experience is another important factor. Your access control system should be easy to configure for administrators, as well as convenient for employees and tenants to use.

In tandem with user experience, reliability is crucial. Look for a system with a proven track record of server uptime and a consistent unlocking experience. Vendors are constantly improving traditional access methods through biometrics, PIN codes and, more recently, smartphone credentials. However, many of these solutions are either unreliable or create too much friction. Best in class reliability calls for multiple forms of communication to authenticate an action. When Bluetooth, WiFi, and Cellular Data can be used simultaneously, the signal to unlock an entry is more reliable and the user can seamlessly enter a given space.

First, a credential is authenticated. After a user presents a credential (mobile credential or card/key fob) at a reader, that credential’s data is sent to the Access Control Unit (ACU), where the ACU determines if this credential is known and recognized by the system.

Next, the ACU determines if the user to which this valid credential belongs is authorized for access – does the user have access to this particular entry? Are they using the right kind of credential and trigger type for this entry? Are they attempting to unlock the entry within any applicable schedules? In order to be authorized, a user must:

• Have access to the entry they’re trying to unlock
• Use one of the predefined allowed credential types (for example, mobile credential)
• Use one of the predefined allowed trigger types (for example, onsite 2FA)
• Make the unlock request within any schedules defined on the entry or assigned to the user or their group
• Ensure other restrictions, such as a system lock down, are not currently triggered

Once authenticated and authorized, the ACU then sends a command to the door locking hardware to unlock the entry. In the case of electromagnetic locks, power is temporarily interrupted when unlocked (also known as fail-safe) whereas with door strikes power is temporarily applied to unlock the door (also known as fail secure).

Managing an access control system includes adding or removing entries, users, credentials, schedules, and alerts using administrative software that syncs automatically with Internet-connected ACUs. The newer cloud-based access control systems integrate with directory services like Google G Suite and Azure Active Directory, streamlining the management process. They also provide the most flexibility for service enhancements versus legacy systems which are client-server based.

Administrators can audit access control systems by generating reports for access logs, including both user activity and entry activity. This is useful for general system reviews; ensuring that the system is working as expected and that there are no issues with accessing entries. Reports are also helpful for meeting compliance standards, such as HIPAA, that require a certain level of physical access control. Additional audit capabilities are provided by access control systems that integrate with Visitor Management Systems, Video Management Systems (VMS), and other security type platforms.


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