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Beginner’s Guide to Access Control: What Are Access Control Systems?

April 15, 2023

What Are Access Control Systems?

Access control systems prevent unauthorized access to restricted areas by cross-checking presented credentials against assigned access privileges.

User access credentials range from fingerprints placed on biometric readers to proximity cards that automatically communicate with door readers.

Benefits of Access Control

Begin your access control journey for greater security system physical security door access.

Remote Access Management 

Access control systems let administrators instantly grant, revoke, and restrict access privileges via an access control interface. This means that new hires or guests can easily be granted access to specific areas they'll use while being denied access to other areas.

Easy Key Security

With a physical access control system, there’s no need to call in a locksmith to rekey all the locks on your property just because a key has been lost or stolen. Administrators can simply deactivate a lost credential and issue a new one. 

Improved Focus and Efficiency

Staff can stay focused on their main responsibilities when security is automated. They no longer need to fumble for keys to unlock doors when moving from one area to another. Nor do they need to turn around and lock doors behind them.

Uninterrupted Workflows

Physical access control proximity cards and fobs are particularly useful for fast-paced and busy environments because they can transmit identifying data to access readers from as far away as five feet.

One door with electronic management to provide the least inconvenience to employees.

Credential authentication from a distance reduces bottlenecks at busy entry points and improves productivity by providing employees with seamless access when and where they need it.

Visitor Management

Access control systems integrated with visitor management devices, such as badge printers, let guests scan official forms of identification, such as driver’s licenses, to enter the security system network and receive printed credentials.

Automated Data Logs for Compliance

When physical access control systems automatically log entry and exit data, they automate time-consuming protocols for regulatory compliance. Manual sign-ins can finally be left in the past.

Scheduled Access

Scheduled Access

Systems with smart scheduling features enable precise access control management.

  • Facilities may remain locked during scheduled holidays even when credentials would normally provide employees with access.
  • Visitors and delivery people can be granted access only at specific times, thereby simplifying protocols for routine services like after-hours cleaning.

Improved Security Response

When unauthorized access is attempted, or doors are forced, access control systems instantly alert security personnel and administrators. 

Access Control Components


key fob and mechanical keys

There are four main types of credentials used in access control systems:

  • Physical Credentials: cards and fob
  • Knowledge Credentials: PIN codes and password inputs
  • Biometric Credentials: fingerprints and faces
  • Bluetooth Credentials: Bluetooth data transmitted directly from smartphones

Access Readers

Access control readers at entry points ensure that credentials are authentic. Access readers include keypads, which require codes for entry; biometric scanners, such as those for fingerprints; and electronic data systems, which receive identifying information through Bluetooth transmission or RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) transmission.

The most common technology used for credential identification is RFID technology. In RFID systems, small antennas inside credentials transmit identifying data in the form of radio frequencies to antennas inside door readers. 

Control Panels

After door readers authenticate credentials, they transmit the credential data to the access system's control panel.

access control panel

The control panel functions as the “brain” of the system. It contains data on all of a system's users, their associated credentials, and the particular access authorizations for each protected site.

Electronic Locks

Door access is permitted by the control panel only if there's a match between a credential and the assigned access rights at the door where it has been presented. If there’s a match, the panel will send an electronic signal for the door’s lock to disarm temporarily.

Approaches to Assigning Access Permissions: Types of Access Control

electronic access security system

There are four main types of access control methods for assigning access permissions.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) 

Role-based systems grant access to specific sites based on a user’s job position or role. This enables large employers to automatically grant members of teams predefined access privileges based on their needs.

For example, nurses at a hospital ICU would be assigned different privileges than nurses in an ER department, and kitchen staff at a hotel would be assigned different privileges than cleaning staff.

Discretionary Access Control (DAC) 

Discretionary systems allow administrators to give multiple trusted individuals permission to add and change access privileges as needed.

Discretionary access control is commonly used in smaller workplace environments where there are fewer users and entrances to manage.

Mandatory Access Control (MAC)

Mandatory systems use strict rules that have been predefined by a central authority. These rules specify which users or groups are allowed to access specific resources and under what conditions.

Mandatory access systems are most commonly used by research facilities, government agencies, military organizations, and other entities where sensitive information must be strictly guarded.

Attribute-based Access Control (ABAC) 

Attribute-based systems are the most flexible method for assigning access rights. In such a system, the control panel makes access decisions based on a set of attributes, such as a user’s current responsibilities or the time of day.

These systems are ideal for highly dynamic workplaces, such as hotels and resorts, where users or the permissions they need are constantly changing.

5 Steps of Effective Access Control

Security cameras combined with electronic entry tools  to manage foot traffic and keep business safe.

Follow a simple five-step method to ensure a high-functioning access control system.

Step 1: Authorization

The first step is to authorize individuals who are known to your organization. Provide unique credentials and assign specific privileges using one or more of the assignment approaches mentioned above.

Step 2: Authentication

After credentials are granted to users with specific authorizations, the credentials must be presented for authentication at entry points and matched with site authorizations by the control panel.

Step 3: Access

If the authentication process is successful and the control panel finds a match between a credential and assigned permissions, an electronic signal will be transmitted to temporarily disarm locks. 

Step 4: Management

Central authorities or administrators review access logs, modify permissions, and add, adjust, or revoke access privileges as needed.

Step 5: Audit

Periodically auditing access logs ensures that the system is working correctly and creates a baseline to monitor for suspicious activities.

Audits are particularly crucial for organizations with legal compliance requirements. 

Integrated Access Control

A single system with alarms, cameras, and access management integrated is ideal for most businesses.

An integrated access control system combines multiple security and building management functions together for easy control on a single, unified interface. By integrating access control with security and building management systems, organizations can collect video evidence at access points, automate unlock and lockdown protocols for emergency situations, configure HVAC and lighting systems for greater energy efficiency, and more.

Security Risks of Access Control

Unauthorized Access

By implementing access control mechanisms, organizations reduce the risk of security breaches. That said, stolen or duplicated access control cards can result in unauthorized people gaining access to restricted sites. For this reason, cards should be highly encrypted to avoid duplication, and lost cards should be reported immediately so that they can be deactivated.

Mobile Devices and Wide Range of Connected Devices

With the increasing prevalence of smartphones and network-connected devices in the workplace, access control systems have more credential options than ever before. To provide the most secure environment possible, consider Bluetooth-based entry systems. In such systems, Bluetooth signals are transmitted by smartphones to access readers. Bluetooth signals are the most secure non-biometric credential because they are impossible to duplicate.

Factors to Consider When Implementing an Access Control System for Your Business

Save time and recognize suspicious activity with access systems.

How many access points do you need to secure, and how many facilities need access control?

Some access control systems are designed to accommodate many users and thousands of doors in different locations, whereas others are most suitable for small facilities or single entry points. If you select a system for fewer users and entry points, make sure that it's scalable to meet potential future needs.

What level of security do you need at each access point? 

Proximity cards are excellent for large industrial and warehouse complexes where many employees approach access points during specific hours. More highly sensitive sites within facilities may require stricter access protocols. For example, multifactor identification, such as Bluetooth ID in combination with fingerprint scans, is recommended for areas containing proprietary research or patient data.

What type of credential will be used at each entrance?

The type of credential used at access points will affect the type of door reader that’s installed.

  • Entry systems that require PIN codes need door readers with keypads.
  • Entry systems that require fingerprints and facial recognition require biometric readers or cameras.
  • Entry systems that require Bluetooth or RFID signals require readers with small internal antennas to recognize electronic data.

Do you need to document entry and exit times for security or to comply with regulations?

Gain entry and egress and protect valuable assets with automated management.

Some access control systems require credential authentication for entry while allowing exits with simple push buttons. However, when data must be logged for compliance, systems that require credentials both for entry and exit should be installed.

What existing access control hardware and credentials do you already have? 

It may be possible to save money by reusing current credentials and other hardware in an upgraded access system. Your installer can tell you which control panels and access devices are compatible with the hardware you already have before you make an investment.

Does the system need to integrate with your surveillance system and other security and building management systems? 

Some systems can be integrated with security and building management systems more easily than others. For current or future integration needs, be sure to select an access control system with an open-source design.

What access control method is the most secure?

Biometric access control systems, such as those which require fingerprints, use the most secure credentialing method. And Bluetooth access control is the most secure non-biometric method.

For maximum access control security, consider multistep ID verification. Because multistep access control solutions use two or more credentials, they offer layered protection against unauthorized entries.

What are the benefits of integrating access control with other business systems?

Access reader for key cards

Integrating access control with other business systems can provide significant benefits for organizations, including improved security, improved workflows, centralized and remote management, and automated compliance with regulations.

What types of facilities will benefit from an access control system?

Facilities that benefit the most from access control systems are offices, healthcare facilities, educational institutions, government buildings, industrial facilities, residential buildings, and hotels and resorts. That said, any facility with sensitive areas or resources can benefit from electronic access control.

How do you choose the right access control system for your building?

Determine the level of security required for your property with a professional security assessment. Once you know what your needs are, evaluate different access control systems for their authentication methods, management tools, reporting capabilities, and options for scalability.

Finally, make sure that your access control system can integrate with other security devices, such as surveillance cameras, intrusion alarms, and fire alarms.

How long will I receive support after installing an access control system?

Most manufacturers provide a warranty for their products that covers defects in materials and workmanship for a specific period, most often for one to three years.

In addition to the warranty, many access control providers offer maintenance and support services. These services may include regular software updates, remote monitoring, and on-site maintenance and repair.

Why use an access control system instead of keys?

Use electronic access control instead of keys to provide a higher level of security. With keys, there's a risk of unauthorized access when keys are lost, duplicated, or stolen. A single lost mechanical key can result in massive expenses to rekey locks and pass out new keys.

Another downside to mechanical key-based systems is that they enable dishonest people to hide information about their access to sensitive areas and resources.

The greatest advantage of physical access control systems is the power they grant administrators to easily add, adjust, or revoke permissions on an individual or group basis.

How scalable is the access control system?

A basic access control system may start with a few doors and a limited number of users, but expansion modules or other tools should be available to enable expansion as needed.

What are the top access control system companies?

The top access control system companies are ICT (Integrated Control Technology) and Avigilon.

Protect your business and employees with ICT and Avigilon.

ICT specializes in all-in-one solutions for access control, intrusion detection, and building automation. Their systems are user-friendly and easy to integrate with third-party devices.

Avigilon stands out for manufacturing the most cutting-edge, AI-based security systems available anywhere. Their Access Control Manager (ACM) is a cloud-based platform that's easy to control via a computer browser or mobile device.

Implementing an Access Control System in Your Business

To implement a physical access control system that meets your site’s unique security and logistical challenges, consult experienced access control experts. Our team here at Mammoth Security partners with the world’s top access control brands and can explain the different features and technologies available so that you can make informed decisions about the ideal security posture for your needs.





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