How are access control systems used in businesses?

Posted October 08, 2020 by Koorsen Fire & Security

Access Control System at Office

Whether you operate a small business of five to ten employees, or you run a large enterprise with thousands of employees and multiple, massive facilities, security is a top priority.

But for most entities today, traditional locks and keys no longer satisfy the demands for more complex and foolproof security solutions.

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Thus, the development of electronic access control systems.

What is an Access Control System?

Access control systems allow entities, such as businesses, hospitals, government agencies, etc., to control which individuals have access to protected areas, information, and/or materials and equipment.

While a brass lock and key does technically fit this description, what is meant today by an access control system is an electronic system that combines advanced hardware and software to allow for much more complex levels of control.

So, today, an access control system not only allows entities to choose who can access the protected area, equipment, or information, but also allows them to set parameters such as when those individuals have access, how long they have access for, and even to what extent they have access (can the individual see everything in an electronic file, or is there still certain information that is denied them).

Where and How are Access Control Systems Used in Businesses? 

The applications for these systems are vast, varying from simple door control to very complex control over types of access, as well as control over information and not just physical space. Access control systems can also be used externally for vehicles coming and going out of parking garages or locked facilities.

So, a small business may use an access control system to give its employees key fobs to enter the building, and that’s it.

A larger entity, like a university, may grant public access to its library during the day, but lock the doors and limit access to students with ID cards during the evening. However, the library may also have a special collections room that only specific faculty, whose ID badges will be given the proper permissions, can enter.

That same university may have a Chemistry Department building that contains dangerous chemicals and is therefore locked to all but qualifying students and faculty. Those individuals will use their same student and faculty ID cards that get them into the library to gain access to this restricted building because their IDs will have been granted the necessary permissions within the access control system.

That university’s student information, however, which is stored and maintained electronically, will likely only be accessible by select administrative employees.

You can probably see that the examples are endless, with as many applications as there are industries. Small businesses, schools, hospitals, large corporations, trucking facilities, government agencies – all have and use varying levels of access control.

How Does it Work?

Today’s electronic access control systems use a combination of hardware and software components, and knowing what they do will help you understand how these systems work.

These components include credentials, readers, strikes, and software.

  • Credentials are what identifies individuals and grants them access. They are also the most recognizable part of an access control system.

    Key fobs, ID badges, and access cards are the most traditional and common credentials. They are better than traditional keys because even if they are lost or stolen, their access can be removed in the system, and they can be rendered useless.

    But, a key fob or ID card could still be found or taken and used before it was missed by the proper owner, which means they are not the most secure options.

    However, recent advances in biometrics have allowed for more secure credentials: fingerprints, facial recognition, iris scanners, vascular hand scanners, etc. These technologies have advanced so much that they are tough to hack and are some of the most secure options.

    Two-factor authentication is another, more recent way to increase security where credentials are concerned. Two-factor authentication requires not one, but two credentials to gain access. Often, this may be an ID badge plus an access code, or a badge plus biometric scan, etc.

    Most recently, thanks to Bluetooth technology, credentials can also be smartphones or other smart devices, which can further add security.
    Credentials can also be proximity-based – cards, fobs, etc. have chips that communicate with the reader, transmitting the ID data, and energizing the card, opening the doors or gates as the individual approaches. Proximity could be very limited (inches) or quite long (which works for parking garages, truck access, etc.).

    However, proximity-based credentials and readers are hackable and, therefore, less secure, though encryption technology is now being used to make them safer.

    Regardless of what the credential is, or whether one or two are required, this is the part that is programmed in the software (more on that momentarily) to grant access and specific permissions. If the individual quits, is fired, or no longer needs access, the access given to that credential can be disabled via the system’s software.
  • Readers are the hardware that is placed by the entry point to read the credential and communicate with the system to determine access. The reader is what will recognize a credential and either grant or refuse access.

    As stated above, while some readers require direct contact or very close proximity, others may use Bluetooth technology or antennas to read credentials from a distance and grant access at an earlier point.

  • Strikes are the electronic mechanism that releases doors or gates in response to the reader confirming a legitimate credential with the appropriate permissions.
  • Software is what makes the modern access control systems what they are. It is the software that enables end-users – you – to create the rules that grant and limit access to individuals based on their roles or qualifications. The software is what enables you to decide and control who can have access to what areas and when, decide what doors open at what times, and which areas require higher-level credentials for access, etc.
    The great part about this software, too, is that it is end-user friendly. While Koorsen, or your security company, will help assist you in setting it up for the first time, you hold the permissions and capability to add new fobs or remove them, change access levels and restrictions, adjust hours that certain doors are open, etc.

    Fine-tuning and making changes to your access control system will not require contacting your security company and waiting for them to get around to it. So, the details of your access control system are controlled by the software, and the software is controlled by the end-user - you.

    The software also allows you to run reports allowing you to review the activity within your facility. You can see which employee accessed what areas and for how long. You can also see if anyone has accessed the system and adjusted permissions and roles. 

    So, not only can you control who has access, but you can also get an idea for how that access is being used and if it is being abused.

Now that you know what main components make up today’s access control systems, you can have a much better understanding of how they work, as well as perhaps a better grip on what you may need at your facility.

Types of Access Control Systems

There are two to three types, or levels, of electronic access control systems, depending on what combination or level of the above components you might choose:

  • Door control is the base model of electronic access control systems. It is intended to replace the traditional lock and key system with an electronic key so that businesses can quickly remove the electronic key from the system without having to chase down the physical key. In so doing, it adds to your security and decreases your cost, since you won’t need to change all the locks should you have a disgruntled employee leave without returning the key.

  • Rule-based or role-based access control systems are the next level up and would be the more traditional example of an electronic access control system.

    This is where credentials can be limited by assigning rules or roles. For example, an employee at a hospital may have access to the maternity ward but not be granted access to where restricted substances or patient files are kept.

    These rules can be created based on employee titles or on special requirements that are set within the company, which they can then assign to employees’ credentials via the software.

    The difference between a basic door control system and a rule or role-based system is the software, not the hardware. The actual locking mechanisms and credential readers will be the same, but the software that allows you to add the complexity and depth to how the credentials are limited will be much more complex.

  • Rule/Role-based plus security access control systems will provide the same level of control for who, when, and to what extent individuals have access, but will also add the benefit of providing feedback on your facility’s security.

    In other words, the previous systems would give you excellent control over limiting and defining access, but they would not inform you if, for instance, someone bypassed the whole system by jimmying a lock or propping a door open. You will be unable to confirm that your facility is truly secure because you won’t know when someone has forced or permitted unsanctioned access.

    By adding the security system element, you gain things like door position monitoring that would monitor the door’s position 24/7. Should a door be forced open without the proper use of credentials, or if a door were left open, the monitoring system would then create an event that could either trigger an alarm or send you a notification, depending on your preferences.

    These measures ensure that not only is access restricted to the right people, but also that no one can force access or leave the facility vulnerable without you being made aware.

    The difference between a basic rule-based system and a security access control system lies predominantly in the hardware. Besides the credentials, readers, and strikes, you would have to add door contact and position switches to the door and a request-to-exit device, such as a motion detector or a push-button by the door.

Have Questions?

You should now have a good understanding of what access control systems are, how they work, and why they are such a benefit.

However, as should also be evident, they can be very complex. If you have questions about the best method of access control for your business or facility, give Koorsen Fire & Security a call today.  

With over 70 years in the business, the team at Koorsen understands the ins and outs of the latest technologies and equipment available and can help tailor an access control system best suited for your needs.

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Topics: Access Control Systems, Commercial Security, Small Business Security

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