Securitys Range and Capabilities

Security's Range and Capabilities

There are apps for that

Smartphones and tablets are revolutionizing the way we communicate and entertain ourselves. We talk or text with family and friends from virtually anywhere in the world or watch a music video to pass time waiting for a train. But do you also want to control your company’s video surveillance cameras from virtually anywhere in the world? Or perhaps extend your access control system beyond facility walls? Today, there are apps for that.

The mobility and convenience offered by handheld devices has caught the attention of manufacturers and integrators, who are now marketing numerous security solutions. Many video technologies offer apps allowing users to view video, control PTZ cameras, integrate video analytics, and start and stop recording. In some cases, video also can be integrated with Google Earth to quickly link incidents to a geographic location.

There also are numerous mobile solutions being offered to augment access control systems. By making the guard, the credential and the reader mobile, the range of security is being greatly expanded. And with these devices capable of working over cellular, RF or Wi-Fi networks, security solutions are becoming viable in places and situations that, until recently, would have been unavailable or cost prohibitive.

Access Control Goes Mobile

Most of today’s smartphones and tablets have intelligence that is comparable to the components of a typical access control system. As such, they are now being asked to handle many of the activities performed by traditional readers, credentials and workstations.

Here’s an example of the new mobile technologies at work with hardened, handheld remote card readers. A Canadian petrochemical plant often has 10 or more busloads of trainees enter a facility. Corporate security policy requires that staff maintain an accurate list of plant occupants and validate credentials of all individuals coming and going. When a bus stops at the main gate, a guard enters the vehicle with a wireless, handheld card reader. He swipes each passenger’s credential to validate cardholder-specific identity information and an associated photo on the reader’s screen. A green check mark on the screen indicates the person is cleared for entry; a red “X” means this passenger is not currently authorized to enter the facility. The entire process takes only minutes and confines the trainees within the bus until everyone is authorized to be on site.

The same procedure is repeated at the end of the day to make certain everyone who is supposed to leave is doing so. When connected to the wireless network, information from the reader is wirelessly transmitted to a head-end system located in the facility’s command center. If network connectivity is interrupted, the device has the intelligence to operate autonomously until communication is re-established.

This type of reader also is valuable as a mustering tool during an emergency. As employees, vendors and registered visitors reach an assigned muster point, they present their ID cards to a safety officer carrying the handheld reader. The reader will provide a list of any missing persons that can be shared with local first responders.

Handheld readers can provide remote enrollment sites at large facilities such as ports that use government-issued TWIC cards or other personal identity verification (PIV) credentials. By handling the authentication at the facility perimeter, the person is enrolled in the database, which can save time for the person at other identity access points within the facility.

Near-field Communication Enhances Security

Another major step in the continued development of mobile access control is based on the technology known as near-field communication (NFC). This technology allows for the high-frequency, wireless exchange of data between two devices, such as a card reader and a smartphone, separated by no more than about four inches.

There are already many NFC-enabled smartphones that contain credit and debit card information allowing end users to make payments for retail purchases. This is a rapidly growing area in the retail industry. But the same phone-and-chipset combination also has tremendous potential for access control applications.

Two test projects conducted by major access system manufacturers provide an idea of how this technology can work. One Swedish hotel allows guests to replace standard room keys with their NFCequipped mobile phones. After making a reservation at the hotel, guests receive a text message asking them to check in using their phones. Once they do so, either before or as they arrive at the hotel, the NFC chip’s key function is activated.

The guest no longer has to stand at the reception desk to receive a mag stripe or proximity card as a room key. Instead, he or she goes directly to a pre-assigned room, holds the phone to the door and it unlocks. By holding the phone next to a service panel in the room, a guest also can use the NFC function to call reception, book a taxi or get the latest Internet weather forecast. Guests using this solution reported saving more than 10 minutes in the arrival process.

Smartphones Simplify access control

NFC technology has tremendous potential for use in facilities such as office buildings and college dormitories. A recently completed project at a major western U.S. university allowed students living in one residence hall to open door locks using NFC-enabled smartphones. The technology also simplifies the administration of the access control system by supporting over-the-air credentialing and use restrictions. An overwhelming majority of the participants said using a smartphone to unlock a door was as convenient as using a campus ID card. And, nearly all students said they would be interested in using their phones for other campus applications such as accessing the recreation center and paying for meals, tickets and merchandise.

With the intelligence residing in the NFC-enabled smartphone, it will be easier than ever to use the cellular network to deliver keys to new employees and vendors and alter the rules for the use of each digital key.

For example, an employee or a vendor at a government facility may have already received approval for access only to find a door where access is denied. With a traditional access card, the person would be required to return to the security operations center to have authorization for that door added. But with NFC and a smartphone, that authorization could be added remotely by simply calling the security desk. The process would take seconds rather than many minutes to complete.

NFC-enabled smartphones can send secure signals to unlock not only open doors, but also desk drawers, file cabinets, storage closets, drug carts and other valuable properties. The infrastructure required for these locks is usually less expensive than that of a standard online card reader, yet, combined with the smartphone, it can create an audit trail to show who has accessed an asset and when.

These less-expensive solutions allow for robust access systems to be applied in areas that may have previously been considered cost prohibitive.

Smartphones also can provide peace of mind for individual workers or students who may feel threatened as they move about a corporate or college campus late at night. They can make a duress call to the security command center, where the phone’s GPS capabilities can pinpoint the call on a campus map. With virtually all students now carrying a mobile phone, it may be possible in the future to reduce the number of remote intercoms and communication stations on campus.

Mobile Devices Deliver Remote Video

Imagine this scenario: A large, often-unmanned utility substation has suffered repeated acts of vandalism from thieves looking to steal copper and other valuable materials. The utility operator installed cameras around the site perimeter in an effort to deter thieves and otherwise monitor any potential criminal activity. The company’s security director is watching a weekend football game in his living room when his smartphone beeps with an e-mail alert warning of an alarm at the substation. He picks up his tablet and opens an app that allows him to pan and zoom the cameras to see real-time video from the site. The problem turns out to be no more serious than a deer repeatedly running into the perimeter fence, and he goes back to enjoying his game.

Without the advantages of this mobile application, the security director would have to respond to an alarm by either going to the site or sending someone else to investigate the disturbance. The delivery of video to mobile devices saves time and resources.

With the proliferation of handheld devices, security command centers are becoming mobile. An organization can provide greater situational awareness for mobile-device carrying guards, officers and other first responders as they roam or perform other vital jobs. This helps officers approaching a potentially dangerous situation with valuable video information that can help save lives and protect property. And those same devices can transmit video back to the command center, where superiors can determine if additional backup is required.

In the field, security officers and guards involved in sobriety checks and pat downs can use mobile devices to record or transmit real-time video to the command center. This can help protect the officer if the suspect later claims mistreatment.

Without the need for cabling or even a corporate Wi-Fi network, cameras using cellular networks to transmit data offer tremendous flexibility in placement. A word of warning before deployment: verify the volume of data to be streamed and check out the cost of data plans from network providers. Adjusting for a slower frame rate, lower resolution or higher compression can reduce bandwidth problems and save money.

More organizations are integrating audio along with video into the security operation to provide more information to the security command center about the nature of events in the field. Some organizations also are connecting these mobile devices to emergency notification systems, intercoms and external loudspeakers, allowing officers at an event to communicate directly with the larger community.

Working with IT

Getting started with a mobile security infrastructure is relatively easy and inexpensive. It quickly puts more capabilities into the hands of more people. But it does add to the existing infrastructure, so that will involve working with the IT department. Even though many of these mobile devices use 3G cellular networks and not an organization’s enterprise network, IT staff members still want to know that all data being transmitted to network servers is properly encrypted and password protected. They will want to limit data stored on mobile devices in order to protect mobile apps and users from information theft and other malicious activity.

IT may require audit logs to record attempted logins, login times and the username to help identify suspicious activity. Since mobile devices are far more likely to be lost or stolen than a desktop computer, IT will want the ability to remotely wipe the memory of a smartphone or tablet, erasing all proprietary information.

Also, IT will appreciate an open system that supports a variety of mobile devices from various manufacturers. That will allow security departments to choose from available devices without necessarily having to purchase additional equipment and/or enter into new longterm contracts with wireless service providers.

Many IT departments may require the development of a virtual private network, or VPN, for transmitting mobile data. The VPN uses a public cellular network to connect mobile devices in the field. But, by encrypting the data on the VPN, an organization helps ensure security by making it extremely difficult for anyone intercepting the data to read it.

Security to Become Increasingly Mobile

Consumers have largely driven this smart device phenomenon, and it shows no signs of slowing any time in the foreseeable future. According to The Economist, 90 percent of the world’s population now has access to wireless connectivity, and by 2015 the number of mobile devices in use will equal the world’s population.

Sales of these devices have continued largely unaffected by a down global economy.

Smartphones, tablets, mobile readers and related technologies represent a new and greatly expanded way of providing security—from a single-site operation to a global enterprise-based organization. With careful planning, these mobile technologies can offer secure remote monitoring, video surveillance and access control solutions to provide benefits such as increased situational awareness and readiness for a wide variety of incidents.

And as manufacturers and security service providers continue to add new applications, the opportunities for mobile security will only increase dramatically in the near term.

This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue of Security Today.


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