Biometric Smart Cards for Access Control

Biometric Smart Cards for Access Control

Any facility, organization or service which is being used by more than a handful of people would need to implement some sort of access control mechanism to prevent unauthorized access. Implementation of access control can also provide additional functionalities like attendance management and visitor management. The level of sophistication of the access control system usually depends on the level of security required. Multi-factor authentication using 2 or 3 types of access control technologies may be sometimes required for highly secure facilities.

Access control systems today use intelligent hardware components like electronic locks, keypads for password entry, card readers for smart cards, and biometric scannerswhich can scan and match a physiological aspect of a person’s body like fingerprint, face, iris or retina. Almost all of these methods require some initial set up to grant access to a new person like storing his fingerprint in the system or allocating a smart card to him. Subsequently, every time a person tries to access the facility, the stored identity is matched to the information collected by the reader at the point of access.            

Smart cards and biometric scanners have individually evolved as two of the most popular methods of access control and both provide distinct advantages as follows.

Smart Card Benefits

Biometric Scanners benefits

Information from multiple access control systems may be configured on a single smart card, allowing a person to use the same smart card to access different departments of an university/office who may have different access control systems

Provides the highest degree of confidence in identification because of the uniqueness of biometric characteristics of a person body

Can be integrated with different types of technology like NFC, RFID, and biometrics

Cannot be stolen, misplaced or forgotten

Easy to use, secure and reliable for both logical and physical access control

Easy to use and people are both familiar with and fascinated by the technology.

Most smart cards are difficult to clone as the information is stored in encrypted form and cannot be read by people who do not have the required keys to decrypt it.

Impossible to clone these as they are the tightly associated with the person.

Even though biometric matching provides a fool proof method of identification, it is a processor intensive task. It requires two steps every time a person requires access.

  1. The live biometric template (e.g. fingerprint) must be scanned and processed.
  2. The live template must be compared with the template stored in the access control system.

Smart cards now come with microchips with a high degree of processing power and may assist in the above tasks thereby decreasing the load on a biometric access control system and providing an efficient access control mechanism. This has resulted in the increasing use of biometric smart cards in places where highest degree of security is essential. There are two kinds of approaches in which smart cards can be combined with biometrics

  1. Match off-card: In this approach, the enrolled biometric template is stored on the card and transferred to the system at the point/time of access. Matching between the live template and the stored template is then done by the biometric access control system.
  2. Match on-card: In this case, the enrolled biometric template is stored on the card and never transferred to the external system. Instead the external biometric system scans the live template and transfers it to the card. The two templates are then matched on the card.

While both of the above methods use the optical fingerprint sensor in the biometric access control system to collect the live template, smart cards with an inbuilt fingerprint scanner are also being tested for use as credit/debit cards.

The combinations of these two technologies combines the advantages of both methods to provide enhanced privacy and security while at the same time improving overall system performance and availability. The same smart card may be used for storing ID different type of biometric information required by different systems. Smart cards + biometric identification is already being used by immigration departments of different countries, on airports to prevent access to restricted zones and in government/defence offices where a high degree of security is required.


Emma Worden

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