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For security teams to effectively manage and monitor building entrances and internal areas, restricting access is an essential tool. A growing trend in this space is biometric access control, which uses unique human features to authenticate who has permission to enter a secured area. Among the strongest forms of user credentials are the technologies used in biometric access control systems, such as fingerprint access, facial recognition and retinal or iris scanning. 

First, what is biometric access control? Biometric controls use unique biological characteristics or measurements to validate identity. Because biometrics are unique to each person, they offer a very high degree of accuracy, making biometric security measures a popular option for high-risk spaces. That makes them a stronger and more reliable form of security compared to traditional credentials such as keycards, passwords or PIN codes, which can be lost, stolen or shared with unauthorized users. 

Biometric access control is generally recognized as a common way to secure highly restricted areas within a building. However, biometric entry systems are also increasingly used in areas where traffic levels are high, but the security risk is relatively low due to their speed and convenience. 

This guide explains the best use cases of biometric controls, including details on the different types of biometric access control devices and the benefits of biometric access control systems for businesses.

How biometric access control systems work

So, how does biometric access control work? To implement biometric controls, security teams first need to capture the physical characteristics — fingerprints, retinas, irises, eyes or faces — of each user enrolled in the system. Specialist firms use sophisticated scanners to obtain biometric measurements and create three-dimensional biometric templates, which are then stored in a secure database. 

A biometric access control reader or scanner compares a user’s features with the biometric template in the database. If the characteristics match, the system issues a door release signal to open an electronic biometric door lock. 

Biometric credentials can be used as the only form of identification or used with other credentials to support multi-factor authentication (MFA). Employing MFA with biometric security measures provides an even stronger level of protection for high-security areas where biometric entry systems are installed.

It’s important to note that the process of obtaining, storing and using templates for biometric controls must be carried out with the permission of the user and in compliance with any relevant local or national privacy regulations. At the time of this publishing, in the United States there is no single, comprehensive federal law regulating the collection and use of biometric data. However, Washington, Illinois and Texas have passed biometric privacy laws and California, New York State and Virginia have enhanced their privacy protection regulations. 

In a number of European countries, biometric templates must be stored on access cards rather than in a separate database to comply with both local privacy regulations and the Europe-wide GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) laws.

Types of biometric entry systems 

Biometric door locks are used in many different types of biometric door access control systems. The best biometric door locks combine strong security with convenience for authorized users. The most widely used solutions include:

  • Fingerprint door locks or a fingerprint entry system
  • Facial recognition door locks 
  • Eye scan door locks 
  • Retinal scan door locks 
  • Iris scan door locks 

When choosing biometric door locks for your business, it’s important to consider the ease of collecting the biometric data, as well as how simple the system is to use. Budget is also something to think about. For example, the cost of fingerprint door locks is likely less than installing advanced iris scan door locks, especially if you need to secure a large facility with many doors.

Fingerprint door locks

Fingerprints have unique characteristics, which make them useful for biometric access control.  In biometric access with fingerprint credentials, a three-dimensional fingerprint scanner takes an enhanced image featuring the grid lines of the finger or thumb in fine detail. This image is converted into a template showing multiple fingerprint characteristics such as ridge endings and bifurcations. When users reach a fingerprint reading door lock, they make physical contact with the door reader which scans their fingerprint or thumbprint. The network supporting the fingerprint access control system transmits the image to the biometric door lock commercial database, which compares it with the stored template. 

A correct match automatically triggers a release signal to open the fingerprint door lock. Fingerprint access control is a highly accurate form of authentication which provides security teams with a reliable, trusted solution for protecting secure areas. The technology is suitable for commercial fingerprint door locks and many other security applications that require a simple, but secure form of authentication.

It’s also a technology familiar to many users who use biometric solutions to secure smartphones and other mobile devices. The smartphone biometric identities can also be used in conjunction with a mobile credential as a form of two-factor authentication without having to install an additional biometric access control device. 

However, under certain conditions the accuracy of fingerprint door locks and thumbprint door locks may be compromised, for example if a finger is dirty, wet or swollen or damaged through injury. 

New developments in fingerprint security systems promise even greater accuracy and convenience. Contactless fingerprint door locks will make the process simpler and more convenient. Fingerprints captured by multi-spectral imaging ensure a very high level of detail, creating images that are clearer, cleaner and more accurate.

Facial recognition door locks

Facial recognition door lock systems use 2D or 3D images of a user’s face as a template for authentication. For these solutions, an image of the person’s face is captured by a scanner and converted into a mathematical code for 2D facial scans or a 3D infrared grid map, which is stored as a template in the biometric access control database. During the initial scanning process, lighting and position must be optimized to ensure an accurate image for the biometric template.

Security software combined with deep learning algorithms analyze the image submitted by the user at a contactless face ID door lock reader and issues a release signal to the facial recognition door lock when a match is confirmed. 

Facial recognition door lock systems can provide a fast, reliable and highly accurate method for authentication. Like fingerprint access control systems, businesses can leverage the built-in smartphone face ID biometrics for environments that require two-factor authentication. In this configuration, face ID door locks don’t require an additional reader installed at the door, and the company won’t need to maintain a separate database to operate the facial recognition door lock system.

It’s important to note that the reliability and accuracy of a facial recognition door lock system can be compromised by factors such as beard growth, use of makeup, certain skin conditions, face coverings or the aging process. 

Eye and retina scan door locks 

An eye scanner lock (also known as a retina scanner lock) utilizes unique eye characteristics as user credentials. Eye scanners use high-resolution cameras and infrared light to produce a detailed map of the eye. This information is then converted into a template that forms a unique credential for use in biometric access systems. Different eye scanner technologies use different parts of the eye. 

Retinal scan locks and iris door locks provide a reliable, accurate method of authentication for biometric door locks for business. They offer users a simple, contactless process for requesting access, although authentication can be compromised if users’ eyesight changes and they have to wear glasses or contact lenses. 

  • Retinal scan lock — A retina scanner door lock incorporates technology designed to capture an accurate image of the unique pattern of blood vessels in an individual’s eye using infrared light to clarify the image. The retina scan lock reader transmits the image for rapid analysis by security software. If the image matches the database template, the software releases the electronic retinal scanner door lock. 
  • Iris scan lock — The initial image for biometric security using an iris door lock is based on the colorful part of the eye. The distinctive patterns of the iris provide a basis for secure, accurate biometric authentication. This biometric entry system is also convenient because it is contactless, and the best iris door lock scanners can detect the subject at distances of up to 2 meters. Although users have to remove glasses during the initial scan, they can keep them on when requesting access at an iris scan lock.

Other types of biometric lock doors

While fingerprint, facial recognition and eye scan door locks are the most common types of biometric entry systems, other technologies, such as voice recognition and vein matching are also found in biometric door locks for business. 

  • Voice recognition — Voice recognition, or voice verification technology, can be used as a method of authentication for access control systems. It is not as widely used as other forms of biometric authentication, despite the fact that it ranks high in surveys of consumer preferences. Voice samples are stored in a biometric control database and used to analyze access requests by recognizing patterns that characterize an individual’s unique way of speaking. The software can be trained’ to recognize patterns in spoken passwords or free speech. Voice verification is not perceived as an accurate solution for biometric door locks for business because of potential variations in the voice caused by environmental conditions, sickness or external factors such as ambient noise. 
  • Vein matching — This vascular technology is a form of biometric access authentication that analyzes the patterns of blood vessels, generally on the inside of a user’s fingers or palms. The biometric lock door reader shines infrared light onto the user’s hand and compares it with the biometric template in the database. This type of biometric security authentication is highly secure and difficult for intruders to cheat’ because the real user must be present. 

Get your complete guide to biometric access control You’ll receive:

  • A comprehensive guide to how the technology works

  • Insight into its benefits for your business security

  • Tips on how to troubleshoot barriers to adoption

  • Advice on installing and maintaining biometric locks 

Applications and use cases for biometric door controls 

Biometric entry systems for businesses

One of the most widely adopted roles for biometric controls is to support building security. As part of an access control solution, biometric door locks for business help protect restricted areas such as data rooms, research laboratories, customer experience centers and product development spaces. The biometric door access control systems ensure that only authorized users with the highest levels of credentials can gain entry. These technologies are particularly important in sectors such as financial services, healthcare or government. 

However, as biometric technology has evolved and businesses are more familiar with its applications and benefits, biometric entry systems are finding wider use in general access control environments. For example, they can be used to manage employee access in high-traffic areas such as main entrances or lobbies where they provide a fast form of contactless access that can minimize delays or overcrowding. 

In domestic or multi-occupant residential buildings, biometric controls have the potential to support access control for residents, but uptake in this sector has been slower compared to the commercial sector. 

Layered security for high-risk areas

In high-security environments, biometric controls form an important component of two-factor and multi-layer authentication systems. Biometric credentials can replace usernames as a secure way to identify a user, while additional credentials add a further layer of protection to deny access. A good example is the combination of biometric access control solutions with an encrypted key card or PIN code.

Because many devices now leverage biometric controls for security, such as laptops and smartphones, businesses can take advantage of that technology without having to invest in expensive biometric access control devices and installation. This configuration would require a user to use the face ID scanner or fingerprint scanner to unlock their device, and then interact with an app as a second form of credential. 

Attendance monitoring and timekeeping

The same biometric technologies can be used in access-related applications such as biometric time clocks for small businesses or large enterprises. This provides a convenient form of check-in for employees working flexible hours or workers who are required to check-in and check-out. Fingerprint scanners are popular for this purpose because they are fast and accurate, allowing employees to clock in and out quickly with a simple scan.

Benefits of biometric access control for your building

  • Unique form of identity — Biometric credentials are unique to each individual user. Fingerprint reading door locks, facial recognition door lock systems and eye scan door locks can only be unlocked by authorized users in person. 
  • Familiar technology — Users are already familiar with biometric access through the fingerprint scan or face recognition technologies used on modern smartphones and devices. This reduces learning time and can speed up adoption and acceptance of new biometric entry systems.
  • Difficult to steal or impersonate — Biometrics can’t be stolen or passed on like a password or key card. Traditional credentials are subject to greater risk of unauthorized use compared to biometric controls, as an intruder cannot impersonate a genuine user’s physical characteristics without great difficulty. 
  • Convenient for users — Users do not have to carry physical credentials or remember passwords or PIN codes to gain access via biometric door locks. Because they do not have to worry if they forget or lose their physical credentials, biometric credentials are often described as a personal keycard.
  • Reduces physical touch points — Some biometric access control devices such as facial recognition door locks, retinal scanner door locks or an iris lock system offer contactless authorization. Where biometric door locks are used in lower-risk, high-traffic applications, they provide a simple, fast method of access that is also more hygienic, making biometric entry systems ideal for use in healthcare and hospital settings. 
  • Reduced burden on security teams — With biometric access devices, security managers do not have to issue or manage passcodes, PINs, keycards or key fobs. If users leave or change roles, they do not have to recover physical credentials and there is no need to replace lost credentials. This reduces the administrative burden on security staff, freeing them for other more important tasks. 
  • Stronger security — The most important benefit of a biometric access control system is stronger security. There is lower risk of unauthorized use of credentials by either employees or intruders because biometric credentials are unique and cannot be easily copied or impersonated. Biometrics can also be used as a strong component of multi-factor verification systems for environments where higher levels of security are required.

Barriers to biometric door entry system adoption 

While biometric access systems offer many important benefits, they may not be suitable for all businesses or individual users. Before investing in biometric security technology, consider the following risks and challenges. 

  • Lower accuracy and reliability — Although biometric characteristics are inherently accurate indicators of individual identity, certain factors can lower reliability and make verification difficult. For example, facial recognition scanners can be unreliable for people wearing sunglasses, heavy makeup, facial coverings or those who change their facial hair. Users may present fingerprint credentials that are difficult to verify because of dirty hands or skin damage.  Biometric door readers that are poorly maintained may make it difficult for the system to capture accurate images. 
  • Privacy concerns — In certain US states and European countries privacy regulations may make it difficult to implement biometric controls because biometric characteristics are classified as sensitive personal data. That makes it essential to capture and store biometric data in strict compliance with local regulations. 
  • Problems with biometric characteristics — Some users may have physical limitations that can affect their ability to use biometric systems. For example, skin conditions or unusual eye features can make recognition and authorization difficult.
  • Potential fraudulent use — Criminals will inevitably try to find ways to breach biometric controls. For example, presenting a photograph of a fingerprint or face may be able to deceive lower-quality biometric door lock readers. 
  • Enrolment problems — Users must be willing to participate in the program, particularly if they have privacy concerns. Collecting biometric scan data for large numbers of users is time consuming, and requiring users to visit off-site locations to complete the necessary scans can affect a business’s ability to roll out biometric entry systems efficiently.
  • Poor infrastructure — Biometric data is bandwidth-intensive and requires a reliable, high-speed network to support communications between biometric lock door readers and the database. A network that does not meet those requirements can lead to poor service and user frustration. 

Installation and costs of biometric access control systems 

When creating a budget for biometric access control systems, ensure you’re factoring in all the necessary technology. Costs will vary depending on the biometric security company you work with, the biometric access control devices installed and the number of users enrolled in the system. 

Data capture 

Data for the biometric templates is captured by sophisticated scanners, which means the service is likely to be outsourced because of the cost and complexity of the equipment required. Costs will be determined by the outsourcing charges and the number of templates to be completed. 

Biometric access control devices 

The choice of equipment depends on the type of biometric controls to be deployed. These can include fingerprint door locks, facial recognition door locks, retinal scan door locks and iris door locks. The capital cost for purchasing biometric devices is currently higher than conventional access control door devices, however costs may fall as adoption increases. Total costs will also vary with the number of entrances to be fitted with biometric door locks.

The biometric devices can be installed as standalone units or as part of a wider, existing access control system. Stand-alone installation costs are likely to be higher than the cost of integrating biometric devices with existing access control door readers due to the wiring needed to connect the various components.

Infrastructure requirements 

A biometric door access control system requires a number of integrated components, including:

  • Door readers
  • Communication network
  • Database 
  • Management software 
  • Electronic door locks
  • Power for system components

Infrastructure costs will be dependent on the availability of existing infrastructure. For example, if your building does not currently have electronic door locks, you’ll need to replace conventional locks in order to support more advanced fingerprint scan door locks or retina scan locks.

The cost of your biometric access control system will also depend on whether you house your user database in on-premise servers or in the cloud, and the strength and speed of your network. To carry out biometric door lock functions efficiently, the network must have the speed, capacity, bandwidth, prioritization capabilities and reliability to transmit bandwidth-hungry data at high speed with minimal delay. 

If the biometric system can be installed as an add-on to an existing access control system, that eliminates the cost of network design and installation, electronic door lock installation and local server installation if data is to be stored on-site. 

System maintenance and updating 

To ensure reliable, accurate operation of biometric lock door systems, regular maintenance is essential. Door readers must be kept clean to reduce the risk of poor recognition and validation problems. The security team has to install regular software and network updates to maintain security and the database must be monitored and managed to ensure it contains up-to-date biometric templates. 

Maintenance and updating costs should be factored into system cost calculations to reach an accurate estimate of through-life costs. 

Cost savings 

Despite the possible high equipment and enrollment costs, biometric access control systems have the potential to reduce overall security costs. The use of biometric credentials eliminates the costs associated with issuing, managing and replacing physical credentials such as key cards or key fobs. 

Additionally, stronger security posture through the use of biometric entry systems reduces the risk of security breaches and any consequent costs or damages. 

Professional support to install or upgrade a biometric access control system

To ensure the biometric access control system meets the security requirements of your property, it pays to work with experienced biometric security companies and specialists. They can provide professional advice and guidance at the planning and design stage by analyzing existing access control systems to identify requirements, develop specifications and recommend appropriate solutions to optimize your security. 

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