Overview of ACS
Access Control System (ACS) is a system that monitors access to facilities, areas or data. Here we will be talking about physical access control. Such a security type manages who is allowed to enter protected premises. Basically, the way an ACS works is quite simple: a person inputs requested credentials (physical: key, key fob, ID card; biometric: fingerprint, retina or iris scan; digital: smartphone ID), they are analyzed and the system grants or denies access based on the validity of those credentials.
The first ever access control system was a keyed deadbolt, and it was thousands of years ago. The modern ACS are more versatile. Not only did the managed entries vary but also the type of verification process. Today’s ACS are more functional. While the regular keyed deadbolts utilized only the unlock process, the modern systems allow monitoring access and sharing it in the ways more convenient for daily use.
Basic components of a regular ACS
Despite every other ACS type being different somehow from one another, they do have some common parts. Usually, one can divide them into three perspectives:
From the point of view of the user, there is a certain identification piece in his/her possessions and some kind of reader at the very entrance. They use their credentials to access premises. However, it is only one side of the coin. There is another perspective - administrative. There exist some control room and/or a web account where all the access data logs are stored. An authorized manager has access to this information for security and analytical purposes. Lastly, there is a link combining the two perspectives - infrastructure. The ACS needs to work somehow, right? Here’s where all of the hardware takes the lead (namely, cabling, locking mechanisms, access control panels, etc.).
All of the components of ACS are of strategic importance. They are equally necessary and together form a system allowing smooth unlocking.
Credentials & Readers
The first thing that pops to mind straight away is credentials. When a person comes up to the door, he/she presents something to authenticate his/her identity. They might use swipe cards, key fobs, IDs or smartphone accesses. Regardless of the type, they hold credentials of a person that are then compared with the access permissions. The readers, doing this job, grant or deny access for an individual based on the result of the analysis.
One of the crucial components of an access control system is a lock itself. In this case, we are talking electronic locks (meaning wired and having access to the power supply). There can be various kinds of those, but mainly they all fall into two categories: fail safe and fail secure. The difference between the two is in the wiring. The fail safe locks are wired so that they lock when power is supplied, whereas fail secure - vice versa - they unlock when power is supplied. The reason for such differentiation is bound with security issues. In case of an emergency, certain rooms should remain locked, while your front door, for example, is expected to let people out quickly during the power failure.
Access control panels & servers
These are the software components of the ACS that are responsible for storing access permissions and used for monitoring and managing access options. Moreover, all of the locks of the ACS are wired to access control panel. Thus, it is more like a hub where all the signals from readers are received and processed. Here all the decisions are made on granting or denying access for visitors.
The wires are vessels of an Access Control System. The power runs through them and allows the whole scheme to operate. Wires are often underestimated when thinking about access control systems. However, if not for them, the electric lock wouldn’t unlock no matter how many times you try to trigger a reader with your credential.
To understand the principles of access control systems performance, it is useful to classify them. Each categorization takes a certain feature as its basis. For example, ACS can be divided into stand-alone, managed and corporate systems. The first group here comprises the single autonomous readers being able to control an entrance by themselves. It is a convenient option for a small facility (i.e., warehouse or a storage room) and can stock only a couple of dozens of users. Managed ACS are more spread and add some software to the hardware. Such kind of systems are manageable and can provide a wider list of functions (i.e., access audit). Lastly, the corporate ACS are the most advanced type of access control. They include IoT solutions enabling the connection of various platforms and kinds of software. Such an approach allows third-party integration for more versatile security.
Physical ACS types
This type of access control system uses clouds to store data. All the lock information, permissions are stored there and not on the local servers. It means there is an opportunity to access all the data remotely from a single browser.
Mobile-based means you need to download the application to your device. What happens next is you log in with your user credentials and operate with the information you have and unlock doors.
This type of ACS differs from the previous so that it is connected to the Internet, thus, integrating with your existing IoT system.
ACS by paradigm
Mandatory Access Control (MAC)
Under this type of control, the security is on the highest level as everything is defined by the system administrator. Among the other types of access control, it is the most strict and, therefore, secure. For granting/denying access, the MAC system verifies the user’s security labels and compares them to the ones of the property. This environment requires high maintenance and planning before installation due to its complexity.
Discretionary Access Control (DAC)
Unlike the MAC system, here the user has some power. It is possible to manage access permissions for the locks a user owns (aka is admin of). In DAC system, every lock has an ACL (access control list), where all the users able to unlock it are listed. It is a common paradigm for an ACS because of its flexibility. However, it creates a drawback: in such a way, there exists a risk of security breaches due to the ability to grant access within the system.
Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)
It is a more down-to-earth approach as the access is granted based on the job function of a given person. As the access permissions comply with the organizational roles, everyone is allowed to see/enter no less and no more than they need.
Rule-Based Access Control (RBAC)
This type of access control comprises the features of DAC and MAC. The system administrator defines the rules (i.e., scheduled access options), under which access is granted, and the users are not allowed to change them. Every lock has an accessible ACL.
Access control features/functions
With an access control system, you can unify all your entrances and manage them from one administrative panel.
ACS enables you to choose the credentials you’d like your users to provide to the system, as well as lets you monitor their activity from one place.
Smart access control systems integrate with the existing products you already use for added convenience.
When you add an ACS to your facility, the entrances become more protected, as they are controlled electronically, eliminating the human factor. There is also the ability to revoke access or deactivate digital keys for any given user at any time.
Whether you opt for DIY installation or decide to hire a professional, it’s still important to understand what’s going on. There are a number of actions needed to be done to mount the ACS correctly. Even if you are not going to do it yourself, there is still a need to monitor the installer’s actions:
Arguably the most crucial part of the installation process. All the wires and cables should be run correctly. It is important to look for elimination of any pinches as they might damage the whole system and prevent it from working.
Depending on the door type, there are different kinds of electric locks suitable for each particular case. If you have glass doors, your choice is magnetic locks. In other cases, there are options of electric strikes, electrified mortise locks or smart locks.
The readers for your ACS should be mounted on the wall near the entrance they control. Depending on the type of connection needed for them, they should be either connected to power supply or the Internet.
Access control panel installation
The access control panel is usually installed in the IT room of your facility for extra protection. The wires should connect the locks to the panel.
The finishing part is setting up the access control server and testing the software for appropriate functioning. Test all the connected locks for correct unlocking and locking before actual rollout.
Why do I need an ACS?
If you have power and control issues, an ACS is perfect for you! Manage people’s right to access your facility, monitor who goes in and out and set schedules for each individual visitor. What’s not to like? Jokes aside, an ACS is pretty vital equipment right now.
First of all, there are the apparent pros like convenience. An access control system eliminates all the problems with keys people face every day. Sharing options are easier and the overall maintenance, too. However, ACS have a number of not so obvious advantages:
In case of access control systems, compliance means regulation of the access permissions and their management. If you install an ACS, there is likely a possibility you’ll need a certain compliance certificate to administer the process of authorization. Thus, the system will be compliant with some sort of certification, ensuring your facility is well protected.
Although it may sound foolish at first, maintaining the image of the business is crucial - especially if you run a powerful corporation. An access control system, in this case, will grant your entrance - aka the first customer/client/employee interaction with your business - an even more professional look. Automated access is just another finishing touch enhancing the experience people get coming and leaving your premises.
If your business has something to do with innovative technologies, data or something like this, an ACS might save the day, as you can monitor who exactly has access to all the entrances. It helps enhance security for the stuff you have inside your facility.
Must-knows before installing
Before deciding on which system to install at your premises, think through the main characteristics you opt for. There is absolutely no need to mount a complex ACS for a closet. The same is for some big corporations - you wouldn’t want to secure them with just a deadbolt. Thus, it is crucial to understand the needs of your business before installing.
First, you should know the purpose of your future ACS. Do you need it for convenience or high security? Do you need one door covered or every entry possible? What additional functions and/or integrations would benefit your business? Once you have this settled, think about what credentials would you want your users to provide to the system. Depending on the security and convenience level desired, there are various options to choose from. Another important issue to consider is locking mechanisms. Depending on your door type, the locksmith will advise the most suitable lock.
As we said earlier in the installation section, it is important to test all the functions before implementing the system for general use. Thus, select a couple of volunteers to test the system functions for you. Look for the small issues your initial users might have and try to eliminate them from the beginning. If you do everything right, there will be a lot easier to launch the new access control system for all of your employees and/or visitors to use.
Think about the circumstances under which you would like your users to be able to access the premises. Based on that, set schedules and share accesses. Again, test all the possible variants of scenarios to see if there are any discrepancies in the rules you set for the system to follow.
After you double checked everything, it is time to announce to a wider audience you are going to switch to automated access control. Tell your employees when and how you are planning to introduce the system and be sure everyone is for. Select a suitable day for everyone to be able to start using the system and begin rollout.