Choosing the right type of access control can be a daunting task. The range of different authentication methods on the market today is broader than ever. Each method has its strengths, too. So how do you pick one?
You must start by assessing your company's physical security risks and choosing the best technology that counters them. This article breaks down the key components of physical access control systems and details the leading authentication technologies available in 2023, so you can decide how to upgrade your company’s physical security.
What is Physical Access Control?
Physical access control is the process of securing who and what can enter a facility. It typically involves a human security guard or electronic physical access control system (PACS) authenticating individuals when they approach security gates.
Key Components of a Physical Access Control System
At a high level, a physical access control system is comprised of the following:
Access control points are simply the barriers where you stop personnel and require them to authenticate before proceeding. For example, an access point could be a locked door, gate, turnstile, or any other physical barrier that someone cannot bypass until they take the necessary actions to gain entry.
Personnel must present credentials to authenticate themselves at an access control point. Many options will be available in 2023, each offering different types of control. There are so many options to consider that we’ve devoted a whole section to them below.
An access control point needs a sensor or reader to scan a user’s credentials for identity verification. Then, data is sent from the reader to the system’s control panel and server. Some readers come as part of an interactive terminal, where you can prompt users to enter additional information when they’re authenticated.
Access control panels are remote computer systems, typically on-site in the facility where you carry out access control. Readers send scanned user credentials to the panel, which verifies whether they have access and unlocks the door or other barrier accordingly.
You could also program the control panel to take one or more triggered actions when they read credentials. For example, it could alert on-duty security guards if someone tries to access a high-security location for which they are not authorized.
Some newer access control systems don’t use control panels, instead using straight reader-to-server authentication. The best configuration depends on your facility and IT network layouts, so we recommend consulting those teams to determine which model system makes the most sense for your facility.
An access control server
This physical access management system tracks, analyzes, and reports access control data to you. If you’re in a small facility, this could be in the same location as your doors and control panels. But it could just as well be anywhere in the world.
The access control server maintains a complete list of users you’ve granted access to and all the conditions attached to their access. It also generates reports you can use for your own internal security audits or meet different regulatory standards.
Because user profiles can be stored in standard formats, it’s easy to integrate your access control with other security systems at this server level. In addition, integration tools allow you to use a single user list to manage your different systems.
So, for example, when a new user joins your team, you grant them access to the rooms they’ll need to enter for their job, as well as to keys and other assets. Then, when the user leaves your organization, you can easily turn off all access at once. As a result, there’s no risk of bad actors gaining access to your facility after termination because someone forgot to update every single user list.
Access Control Credential Types in 2023
There are a bewildering number of access control technologies on the market today. Here are the leading options.
Balance Security and Usability
As you can see, each authentication system has advantages and disadvantages. Each has its place in business security. It’s just a matter of determining what makes sense in your organization and your access control policies.
Are you ready to take your organization's access control to the next level?
With our "Physical Security 101: How to Start Building a World-Class Security Program" guide, you'll have everything you need to plan, design, implement, and test a comprehensive access control physical security program.
About the Author
Vice President of Marketing
Jay oversees marketing and strategic partnerships at Real Time Networks and has over three decades of experience in leadership roles in the financial services and technology industries.