Business Security

Which Credential Technology is Right for Your Business?

By Randy Mann

Now more than ever, keeping your employees safe and your facilities secure are two of the highest priorities you face as an employer. Your people are your greatest assets and their security is very likely one of your primary concerns.

Investing in an access control system as part of your company’s security efforts is one of the most effective ways to prevent unauthorized visitors from entering your facility while also helping to ensure your team can access the building safely.

Access control technology is relatively easy to manage. A computerized database of cardholders helps you keep track of who has access to certain entry points. These systems offer the flexibility of controlling which doors your employees can access and when.

Once you have chosen to invest in an access control system, one of the next decisions will likely be which type of credential technology to choose. To help you select the solution that’s right for your business, here’s a rundown of the five of the most popular credential types ranging from magnetic stripe cards to biometric scanners.

5 Types of Credential Technology for Access Control

1. Magnetic Stripe Cards

Perhaps the least expensive option on this list, magnetic stripe cards are commonly used at hotels worldwide. Although they’re easy to program and inexpensive to replace, they’re also the least secure and one of the easiest to duplicate.

While there are differing opinions on hotel cards being erased when carried next to your cell phone, this technology is susceptible to damage from magnetic fields.

Compared to other technologies, their lifespan is inordinately affected by the wear and tear of normal use. Although magnetic stripe cards are an inexpensive initial investment, this entry-level security option might prove to be more costly in the long run.

2. Proximity Cards, Contactless Smart Cards, and Key Fobs

Prox cards, like this one, are one of the most common forms of credential technology used by businesses.

During the past 20 years in the world of credential technology, nothing has proven to be more popular than proximity cards, smart cards, and key fobs. Commonly referred to as prox cards, these inexpensive contactless cards or fobs can be read without inserting the card or fob into a reader device. When held near a compatible reader, the chip embedded within the cards is “excited” and transmits an encoded ID back to the reader. That information is then compared to information in the security database and either grants or denies access to the user.

Prox cards have a number of advantages when compared to traditional keys. First, this technology eliminates the need to rekey your entry points every time someone leaves the company or loses his card. Second, prox cards have proven to be reliable and long lasting. And finally, deactivating cards is a very simple process.

Unfortunately, the popularity of prox cards and the availability of online resources offering duplicating services have resulted in increased susceptibility to unauthorized cloning.

Earlier generation smart cards and fobs often required batteries or microchips, which could impact the lifespan of the card. However, current generation smart cards do not need batteries and have, so far, proven to be adequately resistant to cloning attempts. These attributes should be kept in mind when considering contactless card technology.

3. Keyless, Digital, and PIN Locks

These locks are durable, low-maintenance, easily programmed and easy-to-use. Additionally, there’s no need to carry an extra card in your wallet or add yet another key on your keychain.

They do however come with a downside. This technology isn’t nearly as secure as other options. Employees can easily share their access code with an unauthorized user. It is also possible for an unauthorized user to witness the combination code as it is being entered by a legitimate user.

Typically, PIN codes are appropriate ­only as a second level of authentication not as primary means to access a building. For instance, think of your banking card. Authorization requires the card to be presented first followed by a PIN code. The intent is to use the PIN as confirmation that the cardholder is the card owner and has authorized access to the account.

The same is true for PIN codes for your building. They are best used as a secondary means of authenticating access for users.

4. Mobile Credentials

Mobile phone credentials is a growing trend in access control.

Mobile or smartphone credentials are perhaps the fastest-growing credential technology and a current trend in business security. In 2017, Security Magazine reported that the Security Industry Association’s Standards Committee is working on creating common standards for mobile credentials.

There are multiple reasons why using a smartphone to include a credential ID has received such a warm reception. Smartphone use is prevalent throughout the world, so adding a credential to its arsenal is convenient, cost-effective, and arguably more secure than any other handheld credential. There’s no need for employees to be physically present to receive their credentials and it’s easy for security administrators to issue or change a credential at any time.

Additionally, mobile credentials significantly reduce the costs (and waste) that are traditionally associated with lost keys, cards, and fobs. Should a smartphone be lost or stolen, the credential can be immediately removed remotely. Finally, employees may forget most any other handheld credential, but they rarely leave their phones behind. This significantly reduces issues with people being unable to access the building when needed and generally ensures more prompt notification of lost credentials reducing security risk.

One thing to keep in mind – while this emerging technology is being widely adopted and tested, not all phones are equipped with the near field communication (NFC)/Bluetooth or BLE capabilities that the technology requires.

5. Biometric Credential Technology

Biometric credentialing, fingerprint technology

Fingerprint scanners such as this one are a type of biometric credential technology.

Biometric credentials provide access to an individual based on verification of a physical characteristic, such as a fingerprint, retinal scan, or face or vocal recognition.

This method of confirming authorization is convenient, stable, and far more effective in holding your employees accountable for their actions. Of the technologies covered in this article, biometric credentials are the most secure solution.

There are a few reasons why this technology considered the most secure. The most apparent reason is that the credential would generally be considered to be indestructible and irrefutable as identity authentication. Furthermore, this choice of technology virtually eliminates the ability to pass along or duplicate credentials. And finally, you don’t have to worry about your staff forgetting an appliance required to gain access. That eliminates the staff time and cost of issuing replacement key cards and fobs.

While considered to be the most secure choice, one common objection to this technology is initial cost. Since the readers required to identify individual physical attributes are far more sophisticated than traditional card readers, that security often comes with the highest price tag among the options. Although there will be a probable higher upfront investment, there are obvious and significant advantages in choosing this technology.

How to Choose Access Control Credential Technology

So, which type of credential technology is best for your business?

There’s no one right answer. Primary consideration should be given to individual business risk assessment, initial and ongoing investment requirements, the convenience of use, and life expectancy. A thorough evaluation of these criteria will help ensure a good decision.

Each type of credential technology could be suitable depending on the application. It’s up to you to determine the cost, management, and level of security appropriate for your situation.

Finally, if you want to reduce the distraction of diverting concentration from your core business, your security integrator should be your most valuable resource for information regarding the decision. A full-service provider can partner with you throughout the process even including remotely managing the cardholder database and handling any scheduling needs including holidays and special events. ACT has been a pioneer in furnishing this service since 1998 and currently functions in this role for many of our clients with a particular emphasis on commercial multi-tenant office buildings.

Need help deciding which credential technology option is right for your business? We’d love to speak with you. Click here to get in touch.

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  1. […] technology. As part of your access control system, we recommend using credential technology, such as a prox card, key fobs or PIN codes, to enter or exit memory care wings. That way, patients […]

  2. […] one of the biggest benefits to managed access is eliminating the hassle of adding, deletion or modification of user credentials. That means you don’t have to worry about learning the technology or keeping employees trained on […]

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