School Security: NFC Proves Itself on Campus

Pilot projects at Villanova and the University of San Francisco confirm the viability of the technology

Using smart phones as credentials is not an idea that came out of the blue. In May of 2011, three research projects were conducted by an independent research group for Ingersoll Rand among 1300 students and decision makers across 980 U.S. colleges and universities — both public and private, two-year and four-year institutions. The studies revealed that two-thirds of American college students were interested in using their mobile phones in place of ID cards.

There are several reasons. Chief among them is that students feel they are less likely to lose their phone than an ID card; and they know that ID cards tend to be shared while phones are not. In fact, people will almost always notice that their phone is lost faster than noticing a card is missing. Using a phone as a credential also offers the ability to remotely erase credential data in case it is lost or stolen, providing an extra layer of security.

At the same time, a new technology was being commercially developed. Near field communication, or NFC, provides simplified transactions, data exchange and wireless connections between two devices that are in close proximity to each other, usually by no more than a few centimeters. Already being used in some parts of the world, it is expected to become a widely used system for allowing American shoppers to use their smart phone like a credit card when making payments.

Many people look forward to this new technology. Like smart cards and biometrics, the early adaptors have been on college campuses, ready to bring the technology to the commercial market along with themselves and their degrees. Already used to using their smart phones as a card credential at college, they will want to do likewise once they are in the job market.

Many smart phones currently on the market already contain embedded NFC chips that can send encrypted data a short distance (“near field”) to a reader located, for instance, next to a retail cash register. Shoppers who have their credit card information stored in their NFC smart phones can pay for purchases by waving their smart phones near or tapping them on the reader, rather than bothering with their actual credit card. NFC technology is being added to a growing number of mobile handsets to enable mobile payments as well as many other applications.

A smart phone or tablet with an NFC chip can also serve as keycard or ID card. NFC devices can read NFC tags on a museum or retail display to get more information or an audio or video presentation. NFC can also share a contact, photo, song, application or video, or pair Bluetooth devices.

NFC technology within smart phones can also be used to emulate smart credentials, enabling the use of mobile phones to gain entry to secure areas. Turning a smart phone into an access control credential is quite easy — the smart phone owner simply downloads an app, and a web-based key management system, such as IR’s aptiQmobile, then sends access control credentials over the air to the NFC-enabled smart phone, which the owner then uses to retrieve the secure mobile key that was set up by the access control site administrator. To enter buildings, students simply open the app and tap their phone to the smart reader on the wall in the same way that they would present their One Card campus ID badge.


NFC at Villanova and the University of San Francisco

Students love it. Since Nov. 2011, Villanova University students and staff have been using the aptiQmobile web-based service along with NFC and their own personal smart phones as their credentials to access dormitories, academic buildings and administration offices. Among the students in the Villanova trial, more than 70 percent stated they would prefer to use their phone instead of a badge to enter buildings.

At Villanova, the NFC credential seamlessly integrates with the university’s CS Gold campus card system from CBORD, which fully supports NFC credentials and seamlessly integrates with the web-based service, so the credential download process is easy. Students download it from the iPhone App Store to install One Card credentials to their phones. To use the credentials, they simply open the app and present the phone to the reader.

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