Alliance Activities : Publications : Secure Physical Access
Using Smart Cards for Secure Physical Access Report
Publication Date: July 2003
Significant activities are underway in both government and industry to implement new access control systems that verify a person’s identity and privileges before granting the person physical access (to a building or place) or logical access (to information or other online resources). Key requirements for these systems include more secure access control, improved user convenience, simpler identity verification processes, and lower overall management and administration costs.
Many Federal government agencies are implementing smart card-based physical and logical access control systems, with efforts aimed at the implementation of standards-based technology. As part of this effort, cross-agency government initiatives managed by the GSA and NIST have driven the definition of specifications for interoperability among government implementations. Commercial enterprises, such as Sun and Microsoft, are now implementing smart card-based access control systems to manage global employee access to corporate resources.
Designing a secure physical access system includes considerations beyond the choice of credential and reader. Appropriate system design requires a full definition of system requirements, including required functionality and security policy, and must take into account factors such as cost, requirements to integrate with and migrate from legacy systems, and the effect of implementation on the users and the organization.
Both contactless and contact smart card technologies are being used in access control systems. Smart card technology delivers many benefits to an access control system, including:
- High speed of access and reduced maintenance costs for contactless physical access control.
- Robust security, supporting multi-factor authentication and a variety of authentication and encryption techniques.
- Flexibility to incorporate multiple applications and to support multiple technology cards and readers.
- Established standards-based solutions, providing a selection of interoperable components and availability of cards and readers from multiple vendors.
The convergence of government and commercial needs and the availability of secure, standards-based smart card solutions are driving the implementation of smart card-based access control systems. Smart card technology enables access control systems to implement more secure identity verification for both physical and logical access and provides a technology platform for adding new applications that further enhance user convenience and simplify business processes.
About This Report
This report was developed by the Smart Card Alliance to provide a primer on smart card-based physical access ID systems. The report provides answers to commonly asked questions about the use of smart cards for physical access, such as:
- How does a physical access control system work?
- What role can smart cards play in a physical access control system?
- What are key issues that need to be considered when implementing a smart card-based physical access control system?
- What other applications can be combined with smart card-based physical access systems?
- What are migration options for organizations moving to smart card-based physical access systems?
The report also includes brief profiles of the smart card implementations at Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, American Express and the U.S. Department of State and planned smart card programs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
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