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What Is Access Control and Why Is It Vital?

By: James Curtiss on November 18th, 2022

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What Is Access Control and Why Is It Vital?

Access Control  |  Hosted Access Control  |  Business Security

These days, cyber threats get most of the attention when discussing security risks to businesses. Although hackers and unseen enemies constantly threaten businesses, physical security must also be a priority. Companies face many internal and external threats, including the theft of tangible and intellectual property and workplace violence.

An access control system is an affordable and effective way to secure your location. By controlling and monitoring who has access to secure areas and when, you reduce your vulnerability to common threats and gain valuable insights that you can use to improve operations.

What Is an Access Control System?

There are two types of access control: virtual and physical. Virtual access control manages who can access virtual spaces, like computer networks and servers. It includes username and password combinations, two-factor authentication, and other methods you may be familiar with as a computer user.

Physical access control systems manage physical locations, including buildings, spaces within a building, closets, and cabinets. Anyone who wants to access those locations must provide an identifier, such as a keycard, confirming their authorization to enter. The system keeps track of who enters and leaves the area (and when). It may have additional security features, such as the ability to lock down the entire building. When integrated with other security measures, like closed-circuit television monitoring, the system provides robust protection and serves as a crime deterrent.

The Benefits of Access Control Systems

Mechanical keys have long secured businesses. Although simple and affordable, they also have their drawbacks. It can be challenging to keep track of who has which keys, and as the organization grows, there’s always a chance that former employees or contractors could still have keys long after they end their association with the company. Switching to an electronic access control system eliminates this risk, among many other benefits.
  • Improved key management. Access control technology eliminates the need to keep track of physical keys and change locks. Security can deactivate identifiers when employees leave the organization, thus restricting their access. The identifiers are adjustable depending on an individual’s level of security clearance. This approach eliminates the need to hold many keys or a master key to access several secure areas.
  • Eliminate lost keys. When employees lose keys, replacing them (or changing locks) is inconvenient and creates a new security risk. A state-of-the-art access control system allows security teams to immediately deactivate the identifier, rendering it useless to anyone who finds it. There is no need to replace hardware, either.
  • Create an audit trail. Access control systems tell you who enters any secure area, when, and, in some cases, how long they stay. This information helps with the investigation in the event of a security breach.
  • Regulate who has access. Custom-programmed identifiers ensure that only authorized individuals can enter secure areas. Employees may be able to access the elevator using a keycard, for example, but visitors must check in with reception. Access control systems can also help ensure compliance with company policies and industry regulations. Contractors or vendors may only gain access after showing certifications or licenses.
  • Restrict access times. Not all employees need access to a building or secure areas at all hours. An access management system can limit access to specific times. For example, you may want contractors to only have access during regular business hours, not after hours or on weekends.
  • Manage access to doors. An access control system can restrict which entrances your employees can use to gain access to the building and any secure areas within it.

An access control system improves your organization’s security by controlling people’s movements within the building. Combined with other physical security measures and tools, such as alarm and video surveillance systems, it becomes part of a multilayered approach to protecting your company’s assets, intellectual property, and talent.

Types of Identifiers Used for Electronic Access Control Systems

Electronic access control systems use a variety of identifiers to grant access to authorized users. The most common is a keycard: The holder holds the card up to an electronic reader, and if it meets all conditions (i.e., the cardholder is authorized to unlock that location at that time), the door opens.

However, some systems allow for a different type of access control that increases the level of security. These systems are like the two-factor authentication commonly used in virtual access control in that they require two or more identifiers, including:

  • Something you have. This object might be a keycard, fob, or mobile device.
  • Something you know. An access control system may ask you to enter a password or PIN code to enter the building. In some cases, the PIN works with another identifier; for instance, scanning a keycard may trigger a prompt to enter the access code.
  • Something you are. Many state-of-the-art access control systems use biometric identifiers, like fingerprint or iris scanners. These, too, work with a keycard or PIN for extra security.

Improve Your Business Efficiency With an Access Control System

One of the most significant advantages of an electronic access control system is the visibility it provides. Not only can you track who has access to your building, but a single management system also connects your entire organization and improves efficiency. Rather than navigating multiple systems managed by IT, facilities, HR, security, and more, a single access control option brings everything together. This collaboration reduces security risks while eliminating confusion.

An access control system can be server-based or cloud-based. Cloud-based access control allows you to log in from anywhere (and even provides mobile access), so you can monitor and analyze security from anywhere in real time. Cloud-based access control also provides a high level of security without investing in hardware or physical protection. These approaches can be costly and restrictive, not to mention challenging to scale as your business grows.

To learn more about access control options for your business, contact Sonitrol New England. Dial 401-272-4791 for the Rhode Island office, 860-247-4500 for the Connecticut office, or 857-445-4009 for Boston.

About James Curtiss

Experienced security industry professional. Commercial Security Consultant working at Sonitrol New England.