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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.
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
A biometric door access control system requires a number of integrated components, including:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our video security experts can help you implement the right security system for your business.