Security's Range and Capabilities
There are apps for that
- By Brandon Arcment
- Dec 01, 2011
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
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
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
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
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
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.