Card security now a core part of attendance features at schools
- By Steve Blake
- Feb 05, 2007
IN recent years, investigative reporters have uncovered security
vulnerabilities in what are believed to be closely monitored
applications: school buildings. In too many instances, investigators
are able to slip into school buildings without being stopped, and
administrators find out about the security breach on the evening news.
Advances in wireless technology have created new opportunities for unauthorized access to systems and networks -- and passwords just aren't enough anymore.
For some schools, it's a wake-up call needed to initiate a security
ID card program. For others, security programs have been part of the
landscape for years. Today, administrators are finding a wide variety
of options to keep students and faculty safer, and in the process,
enhance convenience, efficiency and productivity.
Just as the need for school security has grown, so have the number
of uses found in school ID cards. Most begin by providing basic visual
security for students, faculty, staff, visitors and volunteers. School
officials soon find that adding intelligence, such as bar codes,
magnetic stripes, RFID and computer chips to cards enables an access
control program to monitor who enters the building and when.
Access control can be as sophisticated as a school wants, from a
single card reader at the front door to a program that ties into the
local criminal justice system, as a New York school district has done
for its substitute teachers. This connection provides a daily
confirmation of any criminal violations as recent as the night before.
Substitute teachers scan their card through a card reader attached to a
standard PC in the administration office. Information on the card is
checked against the master database, which contains data from the
criminal justice system. In seconds, the teacher's ID is displayed on
the PC against a color-coded background. Green indicates the teacher
may enter the classroom. Yellow signifies a warning, which might
indicate something as simple as out-of-date information. A flashing red
screen indicates a problem, and the teacher is held back from the
classroom until it is resolved.
Advances in wireless technology have created new opportunities for
unauthorized access to systems and networks -- and passwords just
aren't enough anymore. Many schools, especially colleges and
universities, are realizing that securing access to the school's IT
infrastructure can be just as important as securing physical access
around the campus itself.
Administrators at Connetquot High School in Bohemia, N.Y.,
introduced a more sophisticated student and faculty identification
system, enabling officials to track student schedules with bar-code
technology, ensuring students are where they are supposed to be. Daily
schedules are incorporated into a student management database and then
exported and uploaded into handheld scanners, which read the bar code
on a student's ID card. School officials say the program is especially
beneficial in identifying students in the cafeteria, library and
At another school, tardiness was a major issue. The school had been
using a sign-in sheet for tardy students, leaving an overwhelmed clerk
to deal with as many as 100 students on any given day, many of whom
were enjoying the clerk's discomfort. The students were further delayed
from getting to class by the cumbersome procedure, and the school had
no means of enforcing discipline for multiple infractions. The
introduction of a student bar-code ID system that tracks the behavior
reduced tardiness by 30 percent.
Many schools use ID cards with bar codes to enable students to
charge school lunches. Not only does this speed up the lunch line, but
it also encourages students to carry or wear their ID cards.
For students at the Painesville City Local School District in Ohio,
the cafeteria provided an awkward moment. While most paid for their
lunches with cash or had their parents pay ahead of time, those who
qualified for a government subsidized lunch had to share the
information with the cashier, often in front of friends. Now, a photo
ID card communicates all necessary information confidentially, removing
any stigma involved with free lunches. As a result, more students are
participating in the free lunch program, and the school receives more
federal money. ID cards used for meal programs also can warn users when
the balance is running low, alert cafeteria workers to a student's food
allergies and give parents control over what a child eats or doesn't
ID cards can enable quick library and equipment check out. Cards
also can be used as colorful tickets for school plays or as schedules
for sporting events. Some schools strike agreements with local
merchants that provide discounts to students presenting their ID card.
"Using ID cards as marketing tools and for retail loyalty at campus
bookstores are new uses in the college sector," said Ken Livengood,
vice president of Daymark Solutions, a systems integrator with
extensive experience in the education market.
Debit Card Activities
At Everglades High School in Miramar, Fla., a campaign is underway
to create a cashless campus. All students in Broward County, where the
3,200-student high school is located, have been using ID cards for
school identification for more than 10 years. A few years ago, after a
rash of vending machine break-ins, Everglades added debit privileges to
its ID cards so students must charge purchases at vending machines.
In addition, debit cards at Everglades High School are now used in
the media center and for certain student activities such as purchasing
yearbooks and prom tickets. Use of debit cards at athletic events is
especially enticing to administrators who were uneasy with the amount
of money changing hands during some of these activities.
Everglades High School paid for its smart card program using county
capital funding and help from companies in the area. The school had
arrangements with three different financial organizations to act as
global banks for the school's activities. With new rules and
regulations for financial disclosure, schools thinking about adding a
debit card program should become familiar with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act
and make sure financial records are in order, especially if pre-paid
cards are involved.
Are Universities Different?
Security remains a key motivator for ID card use at colleges and universities, especially for those with on-campus housing.
"University residential facilities have to be very proactive about
protecting residents," Livengood said. "If they don't do something,
they are almost guaranteed an incident."
Most universities, however, are interested in more than security
when considering ID cards. They want efficiency, convenience and
productivity. There also is an emerging interest in multi-functional
cards on college campuses, adding proximity and contactless technology
to cards with bar codes and magnetic stripes for parking privileges,
food service, laundry, bookstore use and logical access.
Colleges also have to be concerned with reliability of the ID cards,
especially when issuing large numbers in a short time. The cards also
must be durable, as many of them go through the laundry in pants
pockets or are used as ice scrapers during long, cold winters.
The challenge with ID cards at colleges is multiple disparate
systems and infrastructures, paralyzing people from doing anything
because of the technology tradeoffs and the task of determining the
appropriate funding source. IT experts on campus are becoming powerful,
forward-thinking advocates for technology. Many start by selling the
smart card concept as security for dorm access, and then leverage the
college's investment in the card by finding other applications. As the
price of access control card readers continues to decline, smart card
How Much Technology is Enough?
ID card technology has advanced tremendously recently, creating
greater options for photo ID cards. Administrators need to look into
the future as they begin an ID card program, considering current
requirements, as well as how needs may grow when deciding how much
technology to include.
Some cards contain magnetic encoding, which can include information
about access levels, class schedules, grades, faculty employment
history and cash for stored value cards. Others use bar coding for
information a school does not want printed. Digital signatures also can
be added for comparison during a security check.
Smart cards, or cards with an embedded small computer chip, and
contactless cards, which have a chip and an antenna coil, are popular
options today. High schools generally use contact cards that need to be
inserted into a smart card reader so a direct connection can be made
with the contact points on the card to transmit data. Contactless, or
proximity cards, are more common on college campuses and can be held
close to a card reader and still transmit data. The internal antenna
provides greater security than magnetic stripe cards.
For further protection, some schools add holograms that use either a
generic image or a specially designed illustration. Schools also can
add higher security features such as micro text, UV printing or
precision repeats. Universities especially need to stay ahead of
resourceful students who have become adept at making counterfeit cards.
Today, there are products on the market to secure the card printing
process itself such as elements that automatically disable a stolen or
improperly accessed unit or notify security personnel of violations to
a printer's authorized hours of operation. Another layer of protection
can be added for schools with multiple locations by helping
administrators manage an ID card system in a networked environment.
"Administrators and IT staff have a good handle on what's available
from a technology standpoint," Livengood said. "If they had the budget
and the staff, they would be doing a lot more."
Yet every little bit helps. Automated tracking and reading is a good
addition to visual security, but administrators recognize a true access
control system with readers in labs and locker rooms is easier said
than done. Students need access, and schools don't want to put up
unnecessary barriers. Nevertheless, in order to have true security,
schools need to take the next step.
The Bottom Line
Experts in school safety have long known that a photo ID program is
a proven tool in maintaining security. Despite attention given to
random school violence, the more common scenario involves a former
student who returns to seek vengeance or the parent in a custody battle
who takes a child from school.
"People have lives that are sometimes messy," Livengood said. "Photo
ID cards can't stop an intruder with a gun, but they can provide an
important tool to help schools manage the more likely incidents."
Schools that use ID cards should make sure the cards are displayed,
not only on students, but also on faculty, staff, visitors, volunteers
and contractors. ID cards can provide a sense of security to parents
and administrators, but unless the cards are actually tied to an access
control system that monitors entries and exits, school officials are
just fooling themselves. In that case, administrators would do well to
watch the evening news.
This article originally appeared in the February 2007 issue of Security Products, pgs. 24-25.