No limits for intelligent readers

Card readers were once highly proprietary and difficult to install, and they mainly served the single purpose of granting access to a building or a section within a building. Today, card readers and controllers are becoming network appliances and as such may play a vital role in a company’s business system, according to Dave Adams, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Access Management at HID Global.

“In the past, logical access was associated with logging into a computer system, while physical access allowed you to get through a door. Now the door has become just as much a part of the network as the desktop computers,” he says.

The same data that is used to open the door can be sent simultaneously to several different repositories, for example, time and attendance systems, video surveillance and quality assurance systems. Today’s card readers are both smart and able to store a host of different data.

“Information sent from the access card reader may not even be used for physical access control at all, but instead go straight to the company’s HR system,” says Adams. “With an IT/IP-centric design, it becomes much easier to just plug a card reader into the network and then decide which areas within the corporate network the reader should communicate with.”

Remote control
One example of a new business application is found in the retail industry, in the form of a combined security service called “unattended delivery”. Retailers often receive goods after hours, something which entails high staff costs. Now, when the delivery person presents an access control card to the store’s card reader, it does not unlock the doors right away but opens up a communication channel to remotely located store staff (or a security company) with video and two-way audio. The burglar alarm can be shut off remotely and the delivery person allowed access.

Access control cards are generally divided into two groups: Cards with magnetic stripes which need to be swiped, and proximity cards which communicate with the reader using RFID, allowing the user to leave the card in his or her wallet or purse.

The barium ferrite reader was used with an early type of proximity card which relied on a magnetic material embedded inside the plastic in a unique pattern that gave each card its unique characteristics. Fragile and prone to snapping, this type of card is becoming obsolete.

While proximity cards have many benefits, security may – at least theoretically – suffer from the fact that data transmitted through the air can be intercepted. “Hypothetically, a radio frequency card can potentially be read from a remote reader by someone who secretly wanted to find out your card number or other user data in order to make an actual copy of the card,” says Adams. One way to overcome this vulnerability is to use encryption by algorithms that change the transmission data each time the card is used.

Wires away
Tamper-proofing becomes easier in the networked world, where a security breech may be detected from any other network unit. In addition, the new technology means that control panels are moving into the card readers and the multitude of wires that used to connect the doors with the control panel are being replaced by a single Ethernet cable. And with new Power over Ethernet technology and the appropriate network router, a single Ethernet cable can also replace the power supply cable.

Recently developed readers can, however, run on a single battery for as long as several years, such as the Simons-Voss digital locking cylinder, the Salto XS4, or the ASSA ABLOY Aperio system, which offers wireless possibilities for online door control. It enables mechanical locks to be wirelessly linked to an existing access control system and is a straightforward, easy and convenient way to add more doors that can be monitored, thereby increasing security and controllability.

The increased prevalence of key-less card locks in hotels and cruise accommodation has paved the way for widespread consumer acceptance, says Adams. Ordinary homes may soon be switching from physical keys to card/credential-based access control and several vendors are making e-cylinders that are wireless and have card readers built into them.

The form factor is, however, important to the residential market and intelligent lock sets with card readers are now designed to appear indistinguishable from a lock set that is operated by a brass key. “Architects, builders and home owners want solutions that fit the front door aesthetics. Any use of electronics need to fit in, only then are people prepared to throw away the brass key,” Adams concludes.


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