Access granted: The evolution of access cards
RAM RAMAPRASAD, director of product management at Zebra Technologies, shares how access cards have evolved from simple swipe technology into so much more.
Access cards have become ubiquitous in corporate environments across the country. A mainstay of any office building, access cards live in our wallets, on our belts and tucked away in desk drawers. For facilities managers looking to upgrade or refresh existing security systems, access cards are a good place to start.
Due to technological restrictions, in the past access cards held a much smaller amount of proprietary identification information than they do today. This information would typically include a piece of visual identification, for example a photo of the bearer; and a magnetic strip that allowed access to certain parts of a building. Depending on a building security system’s level of sophistication, individual movements around a facility could be logged and tracked where the access card was used, allowing for some sort of record to be kept.
FROM PHYSICAL TO LOGICAL ACCESS
Access cards are now being used for two kinds of access to facility systems: physical and logical. Looking to the future, facilities managers, especially managers of large corporate complexes, stand to be able to implement a range of convenient and secure interactions – beyond the standard opening and closing of doors, for which access cards were once exclusively used.
The first of these two accesses, physical access, is primarily concerned with being able to open doors and gain access to different geographical areas within a facility. The second type of access, logical access, is opening up more and more possibilities for facilities managers in regards to virtual security. Logical access concerns the ability to gain access to an application/software or network resources, and so on. So, basically, you have the ability to plug your smart card into your computer station and the smart card allows you to gain access to these areas.
For larger business parks or buildings, many organisations are taking advantage of recent technological advances to invest in a range of innovative offerings. By looking at examples of access card use in a range of other facility environments, such as ski parks or football stadiums, it’s clear they can be used for a range of logical access functions. For businesses that have a cafeteria or recreation facilities, these cards could be reloaded with credits as incentives or rewards schemes. There is also the potential for these cards to be linked to credit card or transport funds, eliminating the need for a range of other cards in an individual’s wallet.
HOW ACCESS HAS EVOLVED
The primary purpose of an access card is to improve facility security and log/track individuals within that facility. If you juxtapose the access cards of today with an access card from 10 to 15 years ago, the technological differences are vast. When we talk about security in relation to access cards, there are three layers of security that access cards work to address. These three layers can be described as:
- who you are: biological data
- what you know: a secure question or pin (personal identification number), and
- what you carry: the physical access card (and its magnetic strip) itself.
How access cards have evolved across these three layers over the past couple of years is interesting, especially in relation to the first point. Technological advances with smart chips have made it much cheaper and easier to store the biological data of workers, such as fingerprints or retina prints. This has meant that facilities managers are increasingly incorporating these innovations into their security systems to provide another layer of security to high-risk environments. While not replacing the photo identification of an employee, these biological security measures are much more difficult to replicate or fake.
Fifteen years ago, identification printer quality meant that some pictures on these cards were very difficult to make out, especially in comparison to printer quality today. In fact, there are many stories of sub-standard identification pictures leading to misidentification and people being allowed access to areas they shouldn’t be in.
Importantly, the access cards of today are much clearer and more accurate in their portrayal of an individual. The other predominant technology used for storing data on an access card at that time was through the use of a magnetic strip. Today, magnetic strips are still widely used – on our credit cards, for example – but we’re seeing a move away from this strip, primarily for security reasons and the capability of smart chips to store much more data.
When you need to store large amounts of information in an access card, for increased security purposes, magnetic strips have been far surpassed in this area by smart chips. For example, you could never store biological information on a magnetic strip, but today you could do this on smart cards. This information no longer even needs to be physically associated with a scanning station through advances in contactless/wireless technology.
LEVERAGING NEW TECHNOLOGY
Take the time to understand some of the more ubiquitous technologies that tenants are provided with and use on a day-to-day basis, and make yourself aware of the potential advantages and point of difference that these technologies can display. The simple access card has evolved into so much more, and the technology now available can be leveraged now and into the future to provide safer and more secure environments.