Biometrics - The Convergence of Digital and Physical Identity for Better Access Control

Posted May 27, 2021 by Koorsen Fire & Security


Most of us are familiar with two-factor authentication (2FA). When logging into your bank's online services or to your account with some company to pay a bill, often, we're asked to choose to receive a text or phone call on our mobile device to complete our login. 2FA requires two different types of credentials to verify your identity.

Similarly, 2FA used in physical access control requires two different credentials to unlock the doors/gates to a protected room/area.  

Modern access control systems can use a variety of different credentials, and biometrics -- physical characteristics unique to the individual -- combined with more traditional credentials offer the best of both worlds in 2FA. With new multimodal technologies that combine biometrics with more traditional credentials, you can use the most effective types of credentials for your needs to achieve the best access control through 2FA or multifactor authentication, which requires three or more credentials to gain access. 

According to a 2018 survey, between 20% of businesses were using biometrics for some form of access control at the time, while another 12% were planning to incorporate biometrics into their systems within the next two years. Fast forward to today, and the meteoric rise of the U.S. biometrics market -- projected to grow more than 56% over the next five years -- strongly suggests that the use of biometrics for access control is going to become much more widespread by businesses quickly. This is not surprising given the wider availability of cost-effective multimodal technologies on the market today. 

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The Most Common Biometrics Used in Access Control

Three of the most common biometrics used for access control include fingerprints, facial recognition, and retinal scans. These "biological credentials" cannot be forged, and the technology necessary to  scan for them is widely available:

  • Fingerprints - The oldest type of biometric used for identification, using fingerprint matching for access control, has become much more common due to the widespread use of fingerprints for authentication on mobile devices. However, using fingerprints alone has its limitations. For example, fingerprint readers cannot always accurately read people with broken or wrinkled skin.
  • Facial recognition - This type of biometric is becoming increasingly common in access control and, more recently, to aid in contact tracing to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. However, studies have found that facial recognition is prone to different types of inaccuracies. 
  • Retinal scans - Retinal scans work by projecting a harmless beam of low-energy infrared light into a person's eye to read the pattern in the blood vessels within the retina (the iris of the eye). These patterns are unique to each individual and can be digitized into a template for use as an access credential. Retinal scans do have a few drawbacks. The scanning process can take more than a minute to capture on a very high-quality template. It may require 3-5 acceptable images to complete enrollment. Also, while the technology has no proven health risks, some people still fear this type of technology, making them reluctant to enroll in the system.

However, awareness and acceptance of biometrics for authentication are growing, which is evident in the willingness that millions of people now have for unlocking their smartphones with a fingerprint or a facial image. 

How Biometric Access Control Systems Work

With biometric access control systems, employees enroll in the system by allowing the organization to scan whatever physical trait is to be used as the biometric for the system. This may be providing their fingerprints, having their picture taken, and/or having a retinal scan. The data for these biometrics is then stored in a database, either in the device itself or on a server, and encrypted for additional security. Once enrolled in the system, any time an employee uses the biometric scanner to provide the necessary credentials for access, the "live" biometric data is compared to the data stored for that employee in the system's database. 

A biometric access control system uses essentially the same basic components as any other access control system. However, to use biometrics with other forms of authentication, you need a multimodal reader. For each type of credential an access control system uses, it must have a matching reader or scanner. So, when combining biometrics with any other type of credential, you will need equipment (and the corresponding software) to read both.  

The first credential in a multimodal access control system is typically one of the more traditional forms of identification, such as a personal identification number (PIN) entered on a keypad, a key card, or a mobile credential using an app on a smartphone or other device. Then, having passed the first "test," the person would then provide the biometric data, looking into a retinal or facial scanner or putting a finger onto a digital fingerprint reader.   

Benefits of Using Biometrics in Combination with Other Types of Credentials

While a single type of biometric can be used for access control, the greatest benefits come with two or more types of credentials -- one/more biometrics combined with one/more traditional type of access control. This is because all types of access credentials have their pros and cons. But when used in combination, the benefits of one type of authentication can compensate for the drawbacks of another.

While all biometrics have drawbacks, in combination with other types of credentials, they also offer several benefits that can add an extra layer of security to your access control system: 

  • Stronger Protection - Passwords and pin-codes can be shared and otherwise compromised, and access cards and key fobs can be stolen or lost. Biometrics eliminate these risks because they are based on an individual's unique physical features. As such, they are nearly impossible to duplicate and can add an extra layer of security many businesses need. 
  • Easy Administration - System administrators can grant or revoke access directly from their console dashboard as easily with biometrics integrated into the system as they can with any other type of digital credential. 
  • Convenience - With biometric access control, you can set it up to allow authorized users to access your building or secured area with nothing but themselves. If you don't want to use more traditional types of credentials, you can get multimodal readers that combine two or more biometrics. Biometric-only systems are friction-free for the user because they eliminate the need to remember the access card, key fob, or pin-code. And, they are highly efficient -- most can identify users in less than a second. 
  • Reduced Costs - Biometric control systems can eliminate the cost of hiring security staff in areas that would typically require ID verification. Also, aside from the upfront cost of installing the biometric system and depending on what other types of credentials you decide to integrate it with (e.g., a pin-pad, for example), you may be able to save even more by eliminating the ongoing costs associated with replacement access cards and key fobs. This is a more hidden cost that can add up quickly.

Access Control is Easy with Koorsen

If you want to learn more about the newest access control solutions, call the experts at Koorsen Fire & Security. Our highly trained technicians stay up to date with new technologies. They can help you take your business security to the next level by designing, installing, and maintaining an access control system that fits your business's exact needs. Give Koorsen a call today to schedule a site visit and request a quote.

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Topics: Access Control Systems, Commercial Security

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