When it comes to upgrading ID cards, perhaps the biggest operating goal in recent years has been getting them to serve multiple functions. Not only do global businesses want their traveling employees to have one-card access to facilities worldwide, but they also want the cards to work for more than gaining entry through secure doorways. That is leading more companies to move to smart cards with embedded microchips. With their read and write capability, smart cards can be used for everything from financial transactions to time and attendance tracking, equipment and material checkout, healthcare processing, and network logon.
In some cases, the adoption by companies of cards for computer access is the first step in the card’s wider use in a more converged physical/logical access system. “Some companies are realizing that if they don’t upgrade their physical access control at the same time, people start leaving their cards in their computers,” says Perry Levine, a senior director of business development at Buffalo Grove, Illinois-based Siemens Building Technologies.
That dual-use is helping security to justify and pay for cards. “What we see often is that funding is coming from the logical side,” says Levine.
Of course, the more information a card contains and the more functions it serves, the more critical it is that the card itself be secure. One way that companies have improved security is by moving from 125 KHz radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to the more securely encrypted 13.56 MHz variety.
Smart cards come with strong encryption, both among individual card applications and when being read. They work as if they have “multiple little file key cabinets, each with a separate encryption key,” says John Smith, a Honeywell Security marketing manager. Smart cards frequently require the use of a PIN as well and enable additional authentication methods, such as the use of biometrics, which are among the fastest growing security-related applications.