what is an access card

What Is an Access Card?

If you’ve been working out of tech offices or coworking spaces for a while and have bounced around companies a bit, the chances are that your wallet is by now chock full of different kinds of access cards used to get into various offices and conference rooms. As you currently check your pockets and contemplate which to throw out and which to keep “just in case,” you may be asking yourself what the difference is between all these cards.  Don’t they all have the same tech? Shouldn’t you be able to reuse them from one office to another by just reprogramming them? In this article, we’ll cover some of the main protocols used in access cards, the advantages and disadvantages, and our recommendations.

When people talk about multi-functional ID cards, one of the leading applications you often hear about is access control. Advancements in ID card technology have enabled card-based access control systems to become increasingly effective for many end-users, securing office buildings, government facilities, and even college dormitories.

Access control systems allow for keyless entry to high-sensitivity areas, which means a special ID card is required to gain entry. Access control cards work in conjunction with card readers situated by entrances to buildings or high-security areas within a facility. The card is swiped or waved in front of the reader, which processes and verifies the information on the card before allowing access. This process is more secure than keyed entry because if an access control card is ever lost or makes its way into the wrong hands, it can be deactivated. It’s also virtually impossible to duplicate the cards, unlike standard keys.

A plastic card with a chip or magnetic strip containing encoded data is read by passing the card through or over an electronic device that provides access to restricted or secure areas or systems.

An Access Card is like no other; we translate your disability/impairment into symbols that highlight the barriers you face and the reasonable adjustments you might need.

Think of it like a Disability Passport.

This then informs providers quickly and discreetly about the support you need and may gain you access to things like concessionary ticket prices and complex reasonable adjustments without having to go into loads of personal detail.

It means different things to different people; these are a few uses that vary between individuals and the context used.

It is an ID card for disabled people that indicates what their legal rights might be and gives businesses an indication of the support they need to provide.

The Tech Behind Access Cards

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Before we dive into the different varieties of cards out there, we should discuss what the tech is behind access cards — how do they communicate with the smart readers you have at your doors? We’ll review the science of RFID and move on to the NFC standard, which adds some regulations and makes the technology more secure!

RFID Protocol

Every smart access card you have is built on what is known as radio frequency identification, or RFID for short. RFID is the function that allows devices to communicate with each other via radio waves, using them to transmit information back and forth. This information mainly extends to self-identification: the devices transfer unique identification tags that other devices recognise and then run authentication algorithms.

One of the most clever innovations of RFID is its ability to communicate with chips and distinguish between active and passive devices. Both devices have RFID tags that are essentially loops of wire with chips attached, and the chips contain the sophisticated circuitry that communicates the data.

However, the most significant innovation is that the passive device doesn’t need a continuous power source. It can remain inactive most of the time, and when it approaches an active device, the active device will induce a current through it. This means that the passive device can be anything from a key fob to a smart card without batteries or charging.

The range of an RFID object can theoretically extend to an unlimited distance, depending on the strength of the active device. Still, in practice, most active devices keep their range low, with a radius of only about a few feet, both for safety reasons (to prevent eavesdropping) and to conserve power (it would need to be massively powered to transmit over long distances).

NFC Standards

The NFC (near-field communication) standard was introduced in 2003 as an improvement on RFID technology. It allows for more secure and speedier communication over short distances using a specific brand of radio waves within the range of RFID. For a complete overview and deep dive into the NFC standard for cards.

The takeaways here are that NFC is highly secure and encrypted, with many layers of security inherent in it. Even if all you are transmitting is the NFC ID, with any application, this ID will be encrypted and protected against any malicious theft attempt. NFC also works very well over short distances, transmitting small (yet still sufficiently large) data packets between a passive device (like a card or fob) and an active device (like a reader or smartphone). To tell if your card is an NFC card, you merely need to look for the NFC signal on it.

Proof of Access Requirements

In some circumstances, such as booking tickets and then accessing free essential companion spaces, it is proportionate and reasonable to make sure that the person requesting that adjustment has a genuine need for them. In these circumstances, many organisations ask for proof of disability/access requirements.

Our experience shows that there is very little consistency of what constitutes ‘proof’ and how this might be asked for and accepted across organisations.

It also becomes a problem for disabled people having to submit personal and private information repeatedly. The Access Card was designed to be a one-stop-shop for assessing needs and communicating bits across multiple providers giving consistency for customers and organisations.

An Access Card is only issued to disabled people who can provide a suitable degree of supporting information. This information includes doctors reports, entitlement to disability-related benefits or any other type of Supporting information.

Communication of Disabled Person’s Needs

In applying for an Access Card, the symbols are assigned, which indicates the type of reasonable adjustment a person may need in accessing the service.

This has the impact of becoming a helpful customer service tool meaning that your staff can concentrate on meeting a person’s needs rather than assessing whether or not a person might be entitled to a specific provision.

Loyalty Card

We believe that by submitting a special offer for disabled people and attracting them to use your service for the first time, you will be showcasing the accessibility of your service and therefore attract return custom.

Disabled people and their families’ choice of venue and activities is limited explicitly to whether the platform is accessible to the disabled person themselves. This decision making represents an estimated combined spending power of disabled people and their close friends and family, equating to about $212 billion a year.

This spending power of disabled people in the United Kingdom is known as the Purple Pound.

Nfc And Rfid Card Types

General RFID cards and, more particularly, NFC cards are used very commonly in access control and mobile payment, the latter primarily in transit cards and bank cards. In this section, we’ll review how those work and which cards you might find yourself using.

Access Cards

One of the primary purposes of NFC and RFID cards (arguably the most important, in our opinion!) is access control. Indeed, thanks to the unique nature of the RFID tag in these cards, they can be assigned to any given end-user. Then when that card is tapped to the reader, the reader recognises the signal and authenticates based on whether the user is authorised to use that door.

Now, there are many different kinds of access cards. They come in many shapes and sizes, and various companies impose additional restrictions on their use. Considering this, you may be wondering what kind of card you have and whether it is secure. As a general rule, if your card is an NFC card, then it will have a secure communication protocol enabled. Refer back to the NFC article for an explanation of this. As an example, here is an action shot of Kisi’s NFC card in use!

While RFID is a general protocol for sharing information over specific radio frequencies, the NFC standard is a set of strict rules that all NFC cards have to follow, including security and strength of the connection.

Many access control systems, like HID (more on HID in a later section), only allow you to use their proprietary access cards to function with their readers. While this does allow for more control on the part of the admin and the company itself, it means that you might accumulate a bunch of mutually incompatible cards in your wallet. More modern and future-proof solutions, like Kisi’s reader, will allow you to enrol whichever NFC card you already have to unlock the readers.

smartphones as Access Cards

As you may have guessed reading up to this point, NFC and RFID (and even Bluetooth) tags are so versatile and small that they are installed in every modern smartphone as well. As a result, many modern access control companies like Kisi are leveraging these capabilities to allow you to use your phone as an access card for entering a building.

In Kisi’s opinion, this presents the final solution to eliminating unnecessary plastic from your wallet and securing your data. Smartphones can allow themselves to have far more heightened security and encryption protocols, as they are not as limited in size as access cards or fobs. Also, as every article on the web never fails to mention, millennials are addicted to their phones, so it’s unlikely that you’ll forget it at home.

HID cards

We will take a brief detour now to talk about HID cards. HID is a company, not a standard or category of cards, so if you have an HID reader on your doors, you will have an HID card to unlock it. HID cards are generally entirely secure and have many fail-safes for a more in-depth look at different kinds of HID cards and reviews which you might have.

Transit Cards

Another place you may have seen or used a contactless card is in modern transit cards. Many cities are moving away from the clunky and unreliable old daily paper passes or swipe cards and moving towards more modern contactless solutions. As is usually the case with these modern contactless innovations, these cards use the NFC protocol. You’ll notice your card is NFC because it has the NFC logo, as referenced above, on it. A relevant example of such a card would be Clipper Card.

Contactless Bank Cards

One of the latest inductees into the world of contactless tech has been the banking industry. Many banks have aren moving towards NFC technology, given its safety and ease of use, and have inserted NFC tags into their bank cards. These cards are incredibly safe and challenging to hack and allow you to pay without going through the annoying and unreliable chip reader or swipe method.

How Do Card Access Cards Work?

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Security SystemsSecurity and accountability are paramount for any business in any industry. Access Control Card and Card Reader, The technology of Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), provides cards with unique codes embedded on a chip to identify a cardholder. The card reader on the door constantly emits a Radio Frequency energy Field. 

When a car crosses the field, the power energises a copper wire inside the card, which powers the chip containing the card number and any other unique data. The individual information is then transmitted back to the reader using the RF field. The reader will then send the unique card information to the access control system, deciding whether the cardholder is authorised to gain access. All this occurs in a split second.

Who Gets An Access Card?

Access Cards are not simply given to anyone who asks for one.

Nimbus has for a long time been advising businesses on how and when to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. It was our expertise in making complex decisions on reasonable adjustments that contributed to the development of the Access Card.

Our decision making is based on seeing enough information from 3rd party professionals that indicate the need for a particular type of reasonable adjustment; identified on the card by symbols.

In many cases, this 3rd party information will be related to benefit entitlement, but, as we tell businesses, not all disabled people claim disability benefits. In these circumstances, we do ask for further information in the form of medical records and so on.

Our decision making is respected across a broad range of ticketing industries and ultimately based on the same criteria as The Equality Act itself.

Transit And Bank Cards In Access Control

If clients already have these perfectly usable NFC cards in their wallet, like modern transit or contactless bank cards, why make them get a new card and clutter their purse?

This is the modern, adaptable access control companies like Kisi are trying to solve. In the mission to make access control as painless and safe as possible, why not leverage the security and ease of use of existing NFC cards, and allow users to enrol those cards to unlock door readers?

With new integrations and the versatility of Android phones, Kisi has enabled this feature. We’ve introduced a new flow in the Android app that allows you to “read” your NFC card from your phone and decode the NFC ID.

Are Access Control Cards The Right Fit For My Organisation?

There are several types of card technologies utilised for access control that can be tailored to just about any business or organisation with controlled entry needs. Magnetic stripe cards store encoded information on a magnetic stripe which the reader decides when swiped. Higher levels of security are provided by proximity cards and contactless smart cards using RFID technology. These convenient and sophisticated cards can securely store encrypted information and must be waived or tapped in front of a reader.

Another common practice, especially for large corporations, is to include an embedded smart chip in the ID card. Smart cards such as these can be used not only to control access to buildings but also to company computers and networks.

Ready To Learn More About Access Control?

AlphaCard systems can print and encode cards to work with almost any existing access control program. We also offer compatible pre-encoded cards that are generally much less expensive than cards ordered through security integrators or installers. AlphaCard does not provide hardware or software for new access control installations.

If your organisation already has an access control system in place, get in touch with us about solutions for printing and encoding cards for your existing system. AlphaCard has proven experience building out card printing systems for businesses and organisations across all industries. Call us today for a free, no-hassle consultation.

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