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Double-Checking: Two-Factor Turnstile Security Enhances Physical Access Control

In many cases card transfer is not a significant concern as there are personnel observing the entry, cards are invalidated when lost, and further measures are in place in addition to the turnstile checkpoint. For remote locations, after hours access and higher security requirements, additional security techniques may be useful.

Two Factors Tighten Security

Computer security experts have been addressing a similar problem for some time: a username and password combination confirms only that someone knows the right data to type. To increase the security of the computer systems against unauthorized access, a second confirmation is often required. This is “two factor authentication.” It is available for physical access systems such as turnstiles as well.

Computer systems such as medical records often use a combination of password and card access, ensuring that there is some physical control of the access method. More advanced systems use a card or other token, and a personal characteristic of the authorized user — a biometric parameter. Fingerprints, retinal scans, hand scans and other biometric data provide a high level of security. Combined with a company-supplied card identifier, systems can identify users with near-absolute certainty.

Biometric Barriers for Safety and Security

Biometric systems are used to grant access to high security and high risk facilities, protecting information and value but also ensuring that areas such as experimental facilities and buildings containing hazardous materials or radiation are only accessed by trained personnel. Encoding of personal information rather than storage of the raw data can provide data for comparison without raising privacy concerns or providing means for “spoofing” or faking the data by hackers.

Authorizing the Person, Not Just the Card

Access system manufacturers are implementing biometric systems as part of their security turnstiles. One manufacturer of these systems with customers in dozens of countries around the world combines proximity card access with subsequent verification. They offer a biometric scan (after the subject enters an intermediate area to ensure a correct scan) or, using IP-networked technology, allow live security personnel to authorize each visitor. Comparing a file photograph with an image of the person entering the gate systems allow human evaluation of each entry from a central, protected location.

Human evaluation systems, providing authorization from a remote location, have the added advantage of avoiding a classic computer security problem: social engineering exploits. These approaches take advantage of human nature through distraction, confidence scams, or misinformation. Threats and intimidation are used in some cases. When the personnel granting access are able to interact directly with the person seeking entry, the possibilities of influencing the authorization decision reduce the effectiveness of the gate system.

Each security situation is unique, and organizations must balance cost and convenience against control. Misuse of access cards can be reduced by physical design, sanctions against card holders, and other procedures. Two-factor security, however, if well designed can provide a high degree of confidence. The only person who can supply the necessary credential and secondary factor is the authorized one. Security turnstiles that implement this “double check” approach not only prevent unauthorized access, but generate high quality access logs that accurately represent individuals’ access to the secure area.

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