From drawbridge to biometrics

November 2015 Access Control & Identity Management

History tells us that there were walled cities (residential estates) and castles (private estates) and both had very strict access rules. It would seem that the management of the access was based on manpower, drawbridges and big gates.

Rob Anderson.
Rob Anderson.

It is unlikely that there was any record keeping, not even a Kalamazoo book and we have to assume that visitor management was an important feature. Probably facial recognition. Thankfully, access control has moved on from this technology, to what we see being installed at present.

At this point in time, the mature products in this sector are most likely to:

1. Be a fingerprint/biometric solution.

2. Have a central database with access groups and transaction records.

3. Integrated with other security solutions.

4. Have the ability to interface with multiple input/scan devices.

The part of the industry that has not matured to the level we would expect is the access rights to the software and databases on the system. We still see access control systems with all the bells, whistles and rules, that have remote access. The remote access is based on PINs and passwords that are shared. This is common practice and does not seem to match the high level of security of access being rolled out at the front gate.

The access control industry clearly has lots of energy, with many plans for the future. If we listed what we would like to see and dream a little, what will the list look like:

1. Improvement in software management control is a must. This ties in with the POPI Act requirements so is a primary requirement.

2. Standardise on database export and import for the industry. (Standardisation is not a popular word in the security industry.)

3. Improved database integration with other platforms, such as:

(i) Salaries and wages

(ii) Human resources staff management software

(iii) Accounting packages

(iv) Property management portals

(v) Security management software, such as the Electronic O.B.

(vi) Asset tracking and management software.

4. New access control primary scanning devices to validate the person entering.

5. And most important, that big green override at the gatehouse that opens the gate, if all else fails, must be put in the museum.

As we have clearly moved into biometrics as the way forward, a short story will be of interest.

We had a client change his access control from RFID cards, with pictures and details of the individual, to a fingerprint access control system. Some months after it had all settled down and was doing what it should do, he found one of the contractors in an area where he should not have been. He asked the individual to show him his ID. The worker proudly showed him his thumb. This was clearly the worker’s understanding of his new ID, since his thumbprint had replaced the old ID card. Progress can sometimes be painful.

With the advent of number plate recognit-ion and long range readers, it is not uncommon to see a vehicle approach an entrance and the boom opens. This approach assumes that the occupant is the person who has access. If not, then the wrong person has gained entry, or even worse, stolen your car and left.

It is possible to have a dual scan, with car and driver matched. A better solution.

The key question has to be, are you controlling “people” or “vehicles”? People cause crime, so in most cases, the answer is people.

Finally, what is the industry saying the future of access control will look like? The following technologies are either available or close to being common practice:

1. Palm scanning.

2. Vein scanning.

3. Iris scanning.

4. Face recognition.

5. Voice recognition.

There is definitely a call for processes that do not require the scanning device to be physically touched. This relates to health issues. There is also a need to evaluate the success of the solution in the environment in which it is being used. Working in the laboratory does not mean the product is ready for the market place. There is also always the need to evaluate the suitability of the solution for the user group. (As with the worker and his thumb.)

It has been a long journey from the drawbridge to biometrics. By all accounts, it is the biometric solution that will be the final choice, although improving systems and integration will be with us for a while.

As a final note, even if you have access control on your door, lock it when you go home.

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Further reading:

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