Biometrics 101: A Primer for Physical Access Control

Biometrics 101: A Primer for Physical Access Control By Debra Spitler The world of physical access control was altered by the events of September 11, 2001, as veterans of this industry will attest. Prior to that time, physical access...


Biometrics in Physical Access Control

Initial biometric systems stood alone-they did not integrate with existing access control systems. However, most companies now provide systems that integrate quite easily with legacy hardware by means of Wiegand data. To work within the legacy market, Exact Identification Corporation designed its biometric offering with the following three objectives:
1) The end user will not have to add additional wire or cable. The unit will connect using the existing access control reader cable.
2) The end user will not have to re-badge employees or contractors.
3) Most important, the biometric reader installation will have no impact on the management of the access control system software. It will not be necessary to retrain any access control operator. Hunepohl said, "The biometric reader, like a proximity reader, becomes just another component of the access control system."

When biometric systems integrate with existing systems through Wiegand data, the biometric reader looks to the door controller just like a normal card reader. This typically requires that the biometric data be handled separately from the user data managed by the access control system. Biometric data is handled by software provided by the vendor. One way biometric vendors have maneuvered around this drawback is by offering products that utilize smart card technology. Contactless read/write smart card technology operating at the 13.56 MHz frequency will play a strong supporting role in the adoption of biometric technology. By offering end users the ability to store the biometric template on a contactless smart card, manufacturers offer end users the convenience and read range of proximity, enhanced by the data storage and processing capability of a smart card. When biometric templates are stored on the card, there is no need to distribute the biometric data to the various readers in a facility. The access control system still manages access rights by means of the ID number sent from the biometric reader to the door controller.

To help end users migrate to biometric technology, contactless smart card manufacturers have developed a "smart" tag. The tag adheres to any existing card or non-metallic device to easily and cost-effectively produce a contactless smart card. Alternatively, end users have the option to purchase multi-technology credentials that combine two or more technologies into one ISO standard thin card. No matter what technologies are needed, these types of options assist end users in leveraging their investment in existing systems while upgrading to new technologies and applications.

According to Webb, future systems will be even further integrated by changing the communication link between the door controller and the reader to RS-232 or RS-485. The access control system can be the central repository and manager of all data, including biometric information. Only the necessary data is transmitted to the biometric reader at the door. This also enables the physical access control system to manage logical access control through biometric PC log-on.

Successfully Deploying a Biometric Solution
To ensure a successful deployment of the chosen biometric solution, consider the following.
1) Choose a biometric sensor based on the application, and understand the system requirements.
2) The chosen solution must be robust and maintainable. Be especially sensitive to any environmental conditions (i.e., outdoor installations, dirty environments) that may affect the reliability of the solution.
3) Users must accept the solution. Train employees in the use of the new technology. This should result in employees perceiving the value of increased security. Address any employee issues associated with privacy. Increase throughput with a second factor, such as proximity, but be sure that the throughput rate does not diminish convenience.
4) Maximize flexibility in setting the threshold with an authentication mode.
5) Enrollment must be completed quickly and easily by trained, trusted administrators. Be ready to handle any limitations associated with enrolling users. According to the UK Biometrics Working Group, "You cannot expect to find a single biometric that will be accessible for all of your users, all of the time."