New Risks and Protections in ID Badging

Why you need to be planning an upgrade now.


Most buildings today are secured using 125 KHz proximity card technology, a technology that was invented several decades ago to track animals. While the basic technology has not changed much, the world around us has. The people that threaten our companies have more information and better tools. ID cards have changed from largely visual identification credentials to electronic keys to a variety of buildings and systems.

Using an ID card to log in to a computer, punch in to a time-and-attendance system or access a medical record increases the security of those applications. But it also introduces a new set of risks. Let’s review the risks in today’s card ID world, along with some of the latest technologies introduced to mitigate them.

Cloning the Printed Image
Within a five-square-mile area of most industrial neighborhoods, there are dozens of card printers and the software to drive them. Add to that the card service bureaus available on the Internet, and it should be clear that while the scarcity of badge production tools may once have added a layer of security to our facilities, that edge is long since gone. In fact, anyone with a copy of PowerPoint, an inkjet printer, and a sheet of clear overhead transparency film can make a badge that will fool the casual observer.

Making matters worse is many companies’ lack of effort in designing their cards. Solid color boxes, Arial type, and a small employee photo make a badge not only dull, but hard to verify and easy to copy.

Optical Security Features. Desktop card printer manufacturers developed security features that will produce unique cards. Adding any optical feature that resists being copied using conventional office equipment increases protection against cloning. “These optical variable devices can be custom holograms, secure micro-printing, or guilloche patterns (fine-line artwork often found on passports or currency),” said David Tincher, supplies business manager for Datacard. Tincher reported that lead times, minimum purchase quantities and setup charges for these custom overlay materials are dropping significantly. “We have also introduced the ability to print dynamic covert text or images on the card that can only be seen with a UV lamp,” he added.

Dennis Caulley, vice president of AccessID, has seen a real upturn in the number of requests for holographics. “Putting a gross and apparent hologram on the face of the badge makes it easier for your employees to spot a fake badge as they walk by.”

Secure Supplies and Equipment. Of course, adding optical security features will not help to secure your facility if the bad guys (or your own employees) can use your equipment or supplies to make counterfeit badges. That’s why printer vendors are starting to tighten up the physical security of the printers. Some, such as Datacard, are offering new printer models with built-in locks to secure the card hoppers and the overlay cartridges to ensure that your supplies cannot easily walk away. The printers can also be physically locked to the desk, and revised printer drivers match the printer with its host computer and render it useless if connected to another PC.

Fargo has taken a slightly different approach with its Print Security Manager. Not only can the printer be set up to require passwords, but printing can be restricted to certain times. The system inhibits badge printing outside of those hours and covertly sends the administrator notification if an attempt is made. Additionally, an alphanumeric code can be printed on the face of each badge with a UV ink. The code can be linked back to the date and time, printer and username that did the printing. “Most of the bad people that are doing things to the company are people that are sitting next to you,” said Alan Fontanella, Fargo’s director of secure materials.

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