What is Access Control?
Every building requires an entry system. Traditionally, this constituted a door with a lock and key, but modern buildings now have smarter solutions to choose from. Today’s leading access control systems are highly advanced and include a range of different components that ensure security, offer remote access, and prioritize user experience. Few aspects are more important than door entry systems, which as the name suggests allow organizations to authorize admission to their entrances and exits.
From doors to garages to other egress points, everything must be secured and managed properly. Beyond that, top building entry systems significantly enhance the efficiency of authorizing access to personnel, visitors, and anyone else entering a location. To help you better understand everything about this critical element of access control, the following summary highlights the major points you should know about a secure building entry system.
Jump to each section to learn more:
- Components of an Electrified Door System
- Types of RFID Key Formats
- Types of Access Systems
- Types of Hosting Solutions
- Common Pain Points with Access Control
- Features to Look for in a Building Entry System
Components of an Electrified Door Hardware
There are many types of entrances and exits. Even within a single location, there can be a great deal of variation. But there are some general similarities as well, and leading electrified door systems should include solutions that ensure your investment in access control can pay off anywhere. In an optimal scenario, you will be able to manage all the doors across your entire organization from a centralized hub on any web-enabled device.
- Electromagnetic Lock: An electromagnetic lock, or simply an electrified door lock, is the centerpiece of any electrified door system. This is the mechanism that, above all else, maintains security and restricts access to authorized personnel. While the technology is nothing new — and these electric door locks can be triggered locally by keycards or biometrics like thumbprints — the difference with modern systems is their ability to integrate and control everything throughout the wider access control system. Through a keyless entry system, some even go even further to cut out the traditional access cards.
- Door Strike: With any locking system, a door strike is necessary. This component is installed on the door frame and stands in as an electric door strike version of the fixed strike faceplate that you would find in the same location on a traditional doorway. Paired with other core parts, it allows the lock to function as intended.
- Door Reader: The Door Reader is the digital device that enables authorized personnel to unlock the door and access a building or room. There are different types of readers for different credential options that can be paired with specific cards and unlocking methods. Two common standards for communicating with the system are known as Wiegand and the Open Supervised Device Protocol (OSDP), which support options such as standard prox readers, keypads, or biometric readers.
- Request to Exit (REX): Many electrified doors are equipped with a way to recognize when someone is approaching, and this is typically achieved through an IR (infrared) sensor. This technology — called a Request to Exit (REX) — is alerted by proximity when someone is behind the door. And because it also knows whether the door is open or closed, the sensor effectively helps initiate the start of the unlocking process when someone is attempting to leave the area.
- Door Position Indicator (DPI): The door position indicator (DPI) is a sensor within many systems that detects whether a door is open or closed. It provides you with visibility to instantly view the status of a door at any time. Doors are typically programmed to close automatically, but this sensor will alert you if something is out of the ordinary. Sometimes this is intentional (like at an event where the door is held open for guests to enter). Other times it could be cause for concern (when doors are forced open by an intruder). In either case, it helps to have visibility into the situation. And when things are operating normally, the DPI can work in concert with the controller to ensure that the door relocks after it is closed.
Types of Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) Key Card Formats
Key cards remain the most common tools employed to unlock electrified doors. Most people are familiar with these cards from their workplace, and they are still the standard — both for their ease of use and effectiveness. Not all key cards are the same, however.
Depending on the door reader being used, organizations can choose from a variety of RFID card formats, and they should be aware that many in wide use today are highly insecure. This makes it vital to have the right key card for your door entry security system.
Low Frequency vs. High Frequency
The main difference in key cards comes down to frequency. Some key cards operate on a low frequency while others use a high frequency. A low frequency RFID (radio frequency identification) option would communicate with the card readers at 125 kHz, while a high frequency RFID option would be 13.56 MHz using near-field communication (NFC).
- 125 kHz (LF): 125 kHz, low frequency, is the common proximity card format used for employee badges and door and gate access control.
- 13.56 MHz (HF): 13.56 MHz, high frequency, is a higher security format used for credit cards and employee badges for physical and logical access control.
Types of Access Systems
There are three main types of access control that you can use for most buildings. Because the primary goal centers on authentication and permissions, you can use either of the following types of access control to achieve your goals. Depending upon your needs and organization type, one of the three may be the natural choice for your door security card system.
- Discretionary Access Control (DAC): DAC / Discretionary Access Control (DAC) allows the organization to set permissions as they please and to whoever they please. With DAC, you can grant full control to the individual in charge of the system and access to end users can with a large degree of freedom. However, while this can be convenient and easy to manage, it can also introduce both physical and cybersecurity threats.
- Role-Based Access Control (RBAC): Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) is now the leading solution used by most private organizations. It is more restrictive than DAC in the sense that there are more options to grant individual users more or less access depending upon their position or role. Specific areas or entrances can be programmed to only be accessible for those with a certain level of permissions, and this offers greater security, flexibility, and control.
- Mandatory Access Control (MAC): Mandatory Access Control (MAC) is generally the most secure option and commonplace in highly sensitive facilities, including military or scientific sites. Permissions are even more rigidly defined and protocols are more stringent. This type of access control usually ensures that unauthorized personnel cannot access a facility or certain area just by getting a hold of a specific keycard.
Types of Hosting Solutions
- Local: Locally-hosted access control systems are just what they sound like: systems hosted by an onsite server. While this can be successful when implemented well — and will remain the preferred choice for certain organizations — it requires more onsite configuration and is just not generally necessary in a world with more flexible options that allow for greater remote management and scalability across multiple sites.
- Cloud: Cloud-based access control retains permissions in the cloud, making them easy to access or edit from anywhere from almost any web-enabled device. This remote access capability is not only more versatile but it will not be susceptible to onsite complexities — from emergencies to disasters to local outages — that could potentially affect a local server.
- Hybrid: Hybrid access control offers the best of both worlds. It provides the top benefits that you get from a cloud-based access control system while also offering on-site storage at the same time. Local data storage can add efficiency and lower network resources, particularly when your systems include video transfer from security cameras. But you will still be able to leverage everything great about the cloud.
Common Pain Points with Access Control
- Disparate Systems: Multi-site enterprises may have a variety of access and door entry systems. This may be the result of growth, mergers, or only replacing certain technology when it becomes necessary at a location. But one thing is certain: Managing disparate systems is a pain. By unifying everything under the same umbrella, it is not just easier but becomes more efficient and reduces the resource burden to keep all the different systems operating properly.
- User Management: Most door systems — especially if you have multiple door entry systems in play — have antiquated user management structures. They are usually full of gaps and difficult to update while also often being quite insecure. This can create an alarming security flaw within a system that exists primarily to ensure greater security. Streamlining user management is one key benefit of upgrading to a modern, digital-centric system that prioritizes the user experience.
- Lack of Support: Even the best technology isn’t foolproof. There will be issues with any access system from time to time, and the best practice is working to prevent them from developing into significant, lasting problems. But this is often exactly what happens to end users cannot receive timely, helpful support. You want something that you know can be serviced and troubleshot as soon as possible — and partners that are eager and capable of providing reliable assistance.
Features to Look for in a Building Entry System
- Intuitive User Experience: Simplicity and ease of use are the name of the game. Security, of course, always comes first, but the next priority is finding a system that will actually be usable. While this hasn’t always been easy to find in this space, you now have a range of systems that work just like a modern system is supposed to. So don’t settle for less and make do with an outdated interface that makes overall management, training, and customization feel like pulling teeth.
- Remote Web-based and Mobile Access: The next level beyond just having a solid digital user interface is having mobile control. While in the past this may have seemed like a pipe dream, the ability to access, unlock, and manage doors from anywhere is now within reach even on large, multi-site systems. Whether through your web browser, tablet, smartphone, or other device, remote access control is something that can make a major difference in how easy a system is to use and maintain.
How does a fob key or key card work?
A fob or key card is the most common solution used to grant authorized personnel access to location, building, area, or room. By providing them with a physical key, they can then easily use this item to unlock any door. It remains simple, effective, and secure — when configured properly — and includes the ability to only give certain people access to certain locations. Technologically, they can use either high or low frequency communication depending upon the card reader installed with the door system.
What is the difference between a fail safe and fail secure door?
There are two main types of electrified doors states: fail safe and fail secure. The difference is what happens when power is lost. With a fail safe door, the loss of power results in the door becoming and staying unlocked. With a fail secure door, the loss of power leaves the door locked.
What do the commonly used door entry system abbreviations mean?
There are a range of commonly used abbreviations, and the following are some that you are likely to encounter:
- Mag – short for Magnetic, this is generally in reference to “mag stripe” or “mag lock” access cards that are swiped like a credit card
- Prox – short for Proximity, this is the type of contactless cards most commonly used in access control
- PACS – Physical Access Control System
- REX – Request to Exit
- RB-RBAC – Rule-Based Access Control
- DAC – Discretionary Access Control
- RBAC – Role-Based Access Control
- MAC – Mandatory Access Control
- ABAC – Attribute-Based Access Control