Biometrics and access control - a formidable combination

November 2007 Access Control & Identity Management

Minimising risk, protecting organisational assets and taking back control.

South African businesses are more aware of the importance of a secure environment than their international counterparts. Since traditional access control solutions that employ cards and readers can be circumvented, these systems are being strengthened through the addition of biometric identification devices in high security areas.

Access control systems authorise access to certain areas in a building or site when presented with a proximity and magnetic stripe card. However, since it is easy to lose or steal these cards, these locations remain vulnerable. Customers, especially those in high-risk industries such as mining, are turning to biometric devices to minimise this risk.

Biometrics solutions are no longer the intimidating, expensive, high-tech devices they once were. As uptake has increased, prices have dropped. Users are also more familiar with these devices, which are now becoming standard issue on laptops, among others. In addition, installation and use has become a snap - user-friendly interfaces, fast implementation and ease of integration are all built into these solutions.

It is important to make use of recognised best-of-breed product brands, however. Many organisations initially made use of low cost solutions that proved to be unreliable and limited in functionality. For example, the capacitors quickly wore out and needed constant replacement or the solution was not set up to make use of large SQL database systems.

Today biometric solutions are more reliable. Built on open platforms they offer full integration with recognised access control systems. Johnson Controls' Cardkey Access Control solution, for example, can be designed for a particular building or site incorporating the use of biometric devices at high-risk security areas, such as server rooms, archive sites, operation centres or areas where high-value assets are stored.

Favoured options

Fingerprint, vein readers and iris/retina scanners are finding the most favour at present. These devices can be purchased as all-in-one reader and scanner solutions, or a reader can be added to an access control point at a door. Iris/retina scanners are finding favour over fingerprint solutions in environments where these devices are subject to high traffic. They do not require physical contact and thus are not subject to constant wear.

Iris/retina scanners are also most often used in medical settings.

One-to-one scan solutions are most popular. They incorporate a badge card with a fingerprint (or iris/retina scan) stored in its memory with a biometric fingerprint/iris reader. The access control system recognises the image on the card and, if it matches the reading on the biometric scanner, access is granted. This ensures cardholders requesting access are really who they say they are.

There are also one-to-5000 scan solutions. In this case, a database is created with all 5000 employees' fingerprints and when the scan device is accessed the system must match the fingerprint to that in the data store.

This can be a time consuming affair, however.

Taking security up another notch, keypads can be added to the access control and biometrics solutions. This offers triple protection, requiring a card, a corresponding fingerprint scan and a pin number or password.

Taking action

In combination, these solutions provide a formidable security system that ensures that only the right people get access to high-risk areas. However, this is only one part of the full system. When alarms go off or incident alerts are sent, effective action needs to be taken.

An integrated and intelligent CCTV solution, such as those making use of a digital recorder with advanced motion detection, will allow security personnel to view playback or the live event wherever they are via a number of client devices - a cellphone, PDA, any access control workstation or any PC/laptop with an Internet connection. This ensures they can take effective action or analyse the event after the fact and take the necessary corrective measures.

South Africa's high crime levels make security solutions increasingly essential to protect organisations' assets, operations and data, and even their employees and clients. As technology advances and prices drop, businesses can take a stronger security stance that gives them back control.

For more information contact Johnson Controls, +27 (0)11 921 7100,,


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