Security in government: Enhancing access with smart card technology

by Mac Thompson on Mar 17, 2015 2:50:00 PM

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For certain government organizations, physical security measures must keep pace with evolving political climates in order to protect valuable assets, confidential information, and public officials. While many have made security upgrades to video surveillance and alarm systems, it’s important to also consider the new technologies within the realm of access control, such as the rising trend of smart card usage versus using more traditional access cards or even mechanical keys and locks. 

Migrating from traditional mechanical locks to smart cards as part of an access control system is a wise move for government institutions that require staff to typically carry keys in order to gain access to offices or certain departments. One lost set of keys can sometimes involve changing all the locks and rekeying all the keys, which results in an unexpected cost of time and resources. Magnetic stripe cards are a slight improvement, but over time they can wear and be prone to damage, causing users to replace their IDs more often and the administration to spend more maintenance on keeping the card readers functional. Proximity cards that use a low frequency 125 KHz RFID transmitter are a little more convenient since they are contact-free and fast, but the credential within the card is technically a generic serial number that can be cloned by tech-savvy individuals with malicious intent.

Smart cards, however, require a two-way exchange of information between the 13.56 MHz chip on the card and the card reader. This mutual verification works as a “secure handshake” because the exchanged information is encrypted, decreasing their overall vulnerability. Switching to a sophisticated electronic smart card-based access control system is ideal for a medium to large sized government organization with dozens of users and a variety of “access zones” that correspond to different departments. Utilizing a managed access software interface, system administrators are easily able to determine which areas each card can access. For example:

  • An employee can have access to multiple areas but is restricted from others
  • Custodial workers can have access to all areas but only during off hours
  • An intern may have access to a small number of areas and only for the duration of the internship.

The software also is able to provide an audit trail of users’ access, improving visibility and accountability. And perhaps most importantly, the management software can enable instantaneous, facility-wide lockdown of zones and offices in case of emergencies. Governmental organizations with strict security needs should consider an upgrade to newer technologies to safeguard against unknowable threats to sensitive areas of operations. The ideal access control system is unobtrusive, user-friendly, and employs state of the art technology as it seamlessly scans the needed credentials to reliably control access to anywhere throughout the facility.

Related post: Access control using smartphones with NFC technology

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This post was written by Mac Thompson

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