Evaluating Access Control

It is crucial to know if biometric access control will work in your unique environment

The pandemic continues to challenge businesses in terms of security, safety and changing working conditions. As more employees return to office environments, they have become hyper aware of shared surfaces that may facilitate the spread of viruses. As a result, operations and security departments are reimagining their security infrastructures.

One principal area of concern, particularly with reduced operational staffing, is access control. Cards and FOBs all have known security weaknesses and require a level of management that may not be practical. For these reasons and more, biometric access control, and in particular face-based access control, is proving to be the right solution for many businesses.

When evaluating a biometric access control solution, it’s necessary to consider the true cost of operating such a system along with the enhanced security it can provide. It’s also crucial to assess if biometric access control will work in your unique environment. Biometric access control solutions can vary quite a bit from different manufacturers, so it’s important to make a list of must-have features and do your homework. Hopefully this article can serve as a reference point.

Biometric Enrollment and Transaction Time
It’s important to understand that any access control solution you may chose will also cost you in terms of having to enroll your population. The management aspect of any access control system must be considered as part of the inherent cost of the system.

The true cost of a biometric solution can be as much about the enrollment process as anything. For that reason, choosing a biometric access control system that has plenty of flexibility for how enrollment is processed is important to keep the cost of operation low. It is important that people also understand where their personal information is stored.

In the case of facial recognition, there is a reference template. Is it stored onsite? In the cloud someplace? How secure is it? This is something you’ll want to be able to tell employees so that they know their valuable data is protected.

Transaction time is also an important part of access control that can factor into the cost of ownership. If employees are not able to efficiently enter the building, then this also represents a cost to the organization. An advanced biometric solution should not hinder throughput because of lags in authentication and verification. If anything, we want to increase throughput and a good face-based biometric access control system can do that.

Enhancing Efficiency, Security and Interoperability
While biometrics can offer more convenient employee access, it should not come at the cost of security. Likewise, it shouldn’t add another layer of complexity to an already taxed security and operations team.

Having operators jump between software platforms and interfaces is inefficient and error prone. It is important to choose an access control solution that seamlessly integrates with existing security systems. Adding a biometrics component should not necessarily require a forklift upgrade to a company’s existing access control system either. When properly designed and deployed, the overall access efficiency and security should be enhanced using a biometric solution.

For example, a facial recognition-based system provides an additional high-quality surveillance camera at eye level at each entry point. It can also detect ‘tail-gaiting’ when a person tries to sneak in on another’s credentials, as well as be used for visitor management registration and a video intercom. With so many simultaneous capabilities, such a system can significantly reduce costs versus a separate deployment for each task.

Working Well in Your Environment
Tradeshow demos are one thing, but will a biometric solution work for your business in the real world? It’s important to look at the environment in which a biometric solution will be deployed. Relying on personal cellphone biometrics may seem appealing at first glance. But, with the amount of device turnover and the ability to lose or borrow such a device, it can hardly be considered secure, particularly when a pin code can easily override the biometric requirement.

A fingerprint reader might say it is IP 65 rated, but that simply means it will survive the outdoors. Working well outdoors can be a challenge for many systems. While condensation from holding a can of Coke can interfere with fingerprints, wildly varying lighting conditions can interfere with facial recognition. So, it’s important to choose a system that has been tested to perform well in less-than-ideal conditions. In addition to performing in all lighting conditions, facial recognition systems must also be able to detect spoofing from a picture or a video played back on a device. Look for a system that maps a three-dimensional structured light over the face. Such a system will not be spoofed by a two-dimensional image.

Transaction speed plays an important role here too. Ideally, a solution should be completely passive and require very little from a person seeking access. A good facial recognition access control system should pick up a registered user, even one wearing a mask, and grant access before they get to the door. Behind the scenes, that requires a fast algorithm and a dynamic camera sensor. Both are important elements that ensure unencumbered throughput into a facility.

The Challenges of Remote Administration
In today’s face-paced world, it is paramount to be able to onboard new employees and manage credentials remotely. A biometric access control system must provide the ability to centrally manage the enrollment process in a secure and controlled way.

A finger vein or print reader is not the type of sensor that’s going to be sitting around the house. Yet, most everyone has access to a webcam a cell phone or other USB camera thanks to Zoom, MS Teams, and working from home. Being able to control a device and manage a remote enrollment process is no longer a nice-to-have feature.

Automated tools should also be available that ensure a quality image with no shadows or inferior lighting on the face of the subject. Look for a solution that makes remote administration and onboarding a painless process for both employees and operations and security personnel.

Frictionless Access Control
Touchless, or frictionless access control is becoming increasingly more popular as people return to the office and want to know everything is being done to ensure their safety. Face-based biometric access control is truly frictionless access control. By removing the need for employees to touch common surfaces, the possibility of surface-born infection is drastically reduced.

Employees have become hypersensitive to such choke points and may attempt to circumvent access control systems purely for their own health and safety. Having a frictionless biometric component such as facial recognition eliminates concerns, adding to the overall confidence in the solution. Coupling face-based access control with an automatic door or locks further rounds out such a system.

There are many different reasons why organizations are moving towards biometrics. Removing the weak link of card readers is only one of those elements.

The health and safety aspects of frictionless access control cannot be overemphasized in a world where attitudes regarding shared spaces/surfaces and social distance have forever changed. The additional security provided by intelligent video analytics coupled with the utility of video intercom and remote management and enrollment makes facial recognition a leading contender for a biometric access control solution. Make sure that any solution you chose enhances, rather than hinders, overall employee throughput and confidence at entry points.

This article originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of Security Today.

About the Author

John Cassise is the senior director of product management at SAFR at RealNetworks.

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