From PIN to Fingerprint: A Comprehensive Guide to Access Control Technologies

February 26, 2016

As part of an access control system, a reader or ID device is used to identify an individual’s 'credentials' or ‘proof of identity’. The device may be a keypad, a card reader or a biometric reader. It allows the access controller to identify an individual and authorise or deny them entry into the restricted area. In order from the lowest level of security to the highest, here are the most common ID systems used for access control:


1) PIN Code

The use of a PIN code entered into a keypad alone doesn't offer a great amount of security because it is easy for someone to see the PIN being entered. As there is no way of identifying how many people know the PIN, it is impossible to be aware in advance of a breach of security. However, combining proximity cards and PIN codes provides added security where lost and stolen cards can’t be used if the PIN is not known. This is a similar concept to that used with ‘Chip and PIN’ bank cards.


2) Barcode Readers

A barcode system offers a slightly higher level of security where a barcode on a card is read by a swipe reader or scanner. Although a lost or stolen card can be reported and consequently disabled, the level of security is still relatively weak as a barcode can be easily copied. Also, where swipe style readers are used, the lifespan of the card will be limited by wear and tear.


3) Magnetic Strip Card Readers

Magnetic stripe card systems offer increased security over barcodes because it is much more difficult to copy or reproduce the information contained on the magnetic stripe. However, the storage and reading methods used are still vulnerable to determined fraudsters and the lifespan of the card will still be limited by wear and tear.


4) Proximity Card Readers

Proximity card systems offer a much more secure system. Even the most basic proximity card systems use some method of authentication before reading a card. It is very difficult to copy proximity cards and the more advanced technologies use complex authentication systems to prevent unauthorised cards from being illegally enabled on a system.


5) Smart Card Readers

Contactless smart card technologies increase security by using even more sophisticated authentication methods together with complex data encryption. Organisations such as banks and government departments generally use smart card technologies in their security systems.


6) Biometrics

With even the highest levels of authentication and encryption, there is no means of checking that a card, however smart, is being used by the rightful owner, even with an accompanying PIN. Therefore the use of biometrics - a means of registering a unique physical facet of the person as their identity, is an even more secure method of access control.

Biometric technologies now available include fingerprint, facial recognition, iris recognition, retinal scan and hand geometry. One of the most convenient and reliable of these systems is a fingerprint reader that can be used for access control wherever high security is paramount, while proximity card access can be used elsewhere on the same premises.


What access control technologies do you use? Let us know at @NortechControl!