Radio frequency identification (RFID) access control systems have been in use for several years and are becoming increasingly popular in the post 9/11 world. In addition to potentially improving operational efficiencies, controlling access with RFID-enabled ID badges allows organizations to:
Compared to traditional access control solutions that rely on magnetic stripes, barcodes, and proximity readers, RFID access control offers these advantages:
The typical RFID-based controlled access solution consists of 1) tags that contain unique identification data capable of granting or denying access to restricted areas, and 2) a mechanism for reading the RFID tags at the access control points. RFID tags can be placed on objects, or they may be embedded into paper or plastic ID cards. They can even be embedded under human skin, but this is highly controversial. When the tags are read at the access control points, their data are validated against a database in a centrally controlled security system, and access is either granted or denied.
Not only is the central security system capable of using identifying information to control access, it can be integrated with other applications as part of a comprehensive security solution. For example, the RFID security system can be configured to automatically log the number of access attempts per ID and trigger security cameras after a threshold has been reached. If a person tries to access an area to which he or she does not have permission, the system detects this and can both initiate video surveillance and send alerts to security or other authoritative personnel. Even when an individual does have permission to access the area, video recordings can still be initiated to monitor the person’s activities while inside of the restricted area.
In addition to the security benefits of controlling access with RFID, such an application has economical benefits as well. Relative to other RFID applications, the access control application is well understood, and system components like tags and hardware are widely available. Prices of tags and equipment are falling, too, which is encouraging to organizations needing to upgrade their security systems.
Despite the advantages of controlling access to facilities with RFID, there are a couple of disadvantages that ought to be considered when implementing such a system. The first is that the system can be bypassed if an unauthorized person “tailgates” an authorized person through an access point. It should be noted, however, that this is also a shortcoming of the traditional access control systems mentioned earlier. A second disadvantage is that the system can be defeated: RFID tags can be cloned with readily available equipment. Anyone with an RFID reader can “skim” the data from a tag of interest and make a new ID badge with the desired access permissions. Note that this type of identity theft does not require the target badge to be physically stolen from its rightful owner. If the badge is in fact stolen, and the victim is aware of it, the tag — and therefore all clones of the tag — can be deactivated. Because of these caveats, it is recommended that any RFID access control system be complemented by an integrated video surveillance system to minimize tailgating, theft, and other undesirable activities.
Utilizing RFID technology for access control allows organizations to improve efficiency and enforce policies regarding access and attendance. All identification data are stored in a central database and can be updated quickly and easily when necessary, especially in cases where permission status changes or where ID cards (or their data) have been stolen. RFID access control applications are even more effective when combined with video surveillance and have sparked much interest among companies of all sizes since 9/11.