Basic Guide to Access Control Systems

person using keycard for access control systems
Access control systems help prevent unauthorized access to your facility.

Access control systems help increase security for your facility. Buildings of all types, from schools to retail facilities and industrial plants can benefit from access control. These systems can help prevent unauthorized entry and may help deter crime for your facility. In this article, we’ll discuss what access control is, why it’s important, how it works, and some options you can choose from for your systems.

What are Access Control Systems?

First, what is access control? Access control is essentially a building system that helps keep people who shouldn’t be on your property out. You equip your property with physical security measures to help prevent access. To gain access to the property, the person must have certain credentials, which they prove through the system, such as with a keycard, a pin number, or some other method. We’ll talk a little more about the different hardware options later in the article, but this is basically what an access control system is. 

Access control systems are an integral part of most security systems. You should customize your systems to your needs. For instance, some facilities want to prevent unauthorized access to the parking lot, while others are more concerned about entry to the building. It all depends on the level of security you need.

Why Install Access Control Systems at Your Business

So, why might you want to install access control systems in your building? Each facility often has different reasons why they utilize access control. The very basic reasons are for safety and crime prevention. In schools and universities, the goal is typically to help prevent non-students from walking around campus because of safety concerns. In commercial buildings, access control is typically used to help prevent theft, whether inventory, data, or other resources. Access control can help prevent unauthorized people gaining access to your property. It can also help keep track of who was in the building during an incident, which can be helpful in cases of employee theft or other nefarious activity.

Also, in some cases you may also need access control to comply with regulations. For instance, many healthcare facilities must have access control systems to help maintain privacy for their patients as well as protect patient data under HIPAA. Many businesses that take and process credit cards must also have some access control to help maintain data security according to Payment Card Industry (PCI) compliance. Therefore, you may also need to install access control to comply with laws and regulations. These standards may also affect the type of system you choose. 

How do Access Control Systems Work?

Modern access control systems utilize sophisticated technology to keep your facility secure. In general, they have a few different components. First, there is the directory of credentials, which is basically a list of who can have access to different areas. Then, there is the “key” for each user. Access control keys are typically individualized to the person and provide proof that they have the credentials needed to enter your property. Without this, the door stays locked or the barrier arm stays lowered. Of course, as part of life safety systems and requirements, all access points allow for easy exit and evacuation in case of emergency, but otherwise people need to be able to prove to the system that they should be allowed to enter a certain area. 

Many Types of Hardware for Access Control Systems

Let’s talk a little more about the types of “keys” you can use in your access control systems. You can use pin pads where a person must type in the right code to enter. This is great for lower level security needs, as  people can share pin codes with others easily on purpose or by accident.

Another option is the keycard or fob. These are physical, like keys, which means only one person can have that particular fob or card at a time, unlike a pin code. Therefore, they may be more secure than a pin code. Cards and fobs are much harder to copy than traditional keys. Also, you can typically deactivate them immediately when reported lost or stolen. However, these can also be given to an unauthorized person, so these are best for low to medium security needs. 

For higher security needs, hardware exists to provide biometric access control. The most common is a fingerprint ID. Others might include things like iris recognition, face recognition, or voice recognition, but these are much less popular. Gaining unauthorized entry with these systems is much harder. The key for the system is unique biometric data that can’t be shared or stolen.

Main Types of Access Control

Managing access control systems is important to help keep your property secure. There are a few different ways to manage credentials in a system. There are pros and cons to each, so it’s critical to consider which works best for your needs. 

The main types of access control include:

  • Discretionary
  • Mandatory
  • Role-based
  • Rule-based

Discretionary Access Control

Discretionary access control is one of the easiest to manage, but also may be less secure than other options. Essentially, this provides the same level of access to everyone with credentials. For example, you give all of your employees the same type of keycard or pin code that provides access to everything in your building. Also, if you have certain rooms containing items or information that requires higher security, this type of access control management doesn’t allow you to set any rules about who has access, as everyone has the same level of access. 

Mandatory Access Control

Mandatory access control offers one of the highest levels of security. In most cases you assign access credentials on an individual level with mandatory access control. One person may have access to the “top secret” areas of the building, while others are limited to the common areas. Managing these systems often requires a lot of attention, which makes them somewhat less attractive to many businesses that only have low to medium security needs. However, for high security needs, this is often the best option. 

Role-Based Access Control

Role-based is by far the most common type of access control in most commercial buildings. Each person is assigned a role that allows them a certain level of access. Top level management may have access to every area of the building, while those lower on the hierarchy may have access only to certain areas. Generally, this type of access control uses the idea of providing the minimum level of access required for a person to do their job. This offers a medium level of security while still being pretty user-friendly for most organizations. 

Rule-Based Access Control

Rule-based access control is actually typically an add-on to the above types of access control. Essentially, this allows you to put rules on when access is granted. For instance, you might not allow access to certain people or to anyone after closing time or on days your business is not open. This can help you avoid 24/7 access that might lead to things like employee theft after hours when no one is around. 

Security and Fire System Specialists at Wilson Fire Equipment

When you need to protect your people and property, trust our team of experts at Wilson Fire Equipment. We’ve been installing and maintaining fire, security, and life safety systems since 1916 and are here to provide our expertise to all your system needs. Our team offers innovative options that fit your needs and budget. Whether you need fire alarms for fire code compliance or are looking for affordable, effective security systems monitoring in Houston to help prevent break-ins, we have solutions for you. Get a quote today for life safety, security, or fire safety systems.