Magazine Article | February 1, 2002

An Open Door Policy Is A Nice Touch - For Suckers

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Do you know who is in the office next door or the data center two floors down? Are you sure? If you aren't using biometrics to secure the area, you'd better look again.

Integrated Solutions, February 2002

Security is a state of mind, and our state of mind has changed." So says Bill Spence, director of marketing for Recognition Systems, Inc. (Campbell, CA). And, Spence is right. There's no denying that, especially in corporate America, people are looking at their employees, coworkers, facilities, and assets with a level of scrutiny once thought worthy only of your friendly neighborhood conspiracy theorist. They wonder: Who can walk into our building? How far can they penetrate? What could they take out of here? What might they bring in?

The impulse to look over one's shoulder is felt in all kinds of businesses. Even the owner of a health club is likely to think, "Are any unauthorized people posing as members? Who might be able to walk in and steal my revenue?" Whether the threat comes from corporate terrorists or just garden-variety grifters, cheaters, and bottom feeders, you're watching. You know you are. And, that, in its way, is a good thing. As a thoughtful wiseass once said, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you." Or, according to the axiom, it's better to be safe than sorry.

Of course, safe isn't free. But, sorry's price tag is even heftier. That's why, if you haven't invested in security-enhancing technologies, it's time to consider biometrics. Hand geometry readers, in particular, offer scalable solutions for access control. Even small businesses can afford and benefit from basic systems. After all, except for the dot-coms, everyone has a front door.

A Solution Is Not In The Cards
By relying on unique data about a person's physical traits - for example, the shape of a hand - biometric devices reliably secure facilities housing critical resources and assets. In a corporate environment, those resources and assets might include top executives and sensitive data. In a health club, they might be membership privileges and equipment. When it comes to deciding where to control access, companies must carefully ponder the relationship between public accessibility and security. Do they want to let people move freely only until they reach an internal gateway to valuable assets? Or, do they want to control access and monitor movement as people approach the front door?

In the case of employee access, companies often rely solely on plastic ID cards. According to Spence, unless it incorporates biometric data, card technology does not provide guaranteed control. "Because cards and PIN numbers can be exchanged or stolen, a card reader system really verifies only which cards are in the building, not which people," Spence explains. Alan McGaffin, president of ATM/Canterbury Corp. (Houston), points out that photos bring an extra level of security, but at a significant labor cost. "You can check to make sure that the photo matches the cardholder," McGaffin says. "But, that requires staffing every access point." In addition, those employees have to be motivated to watch for questionable matches.

Putting hand geometry at every access point eliminates the potential for human error, disinterest, or dishonesty, either from the guardians or from the barbarians at the gate. People steal cards and hand them off to others, and they do the same with PIN numbers. By contrast, although many people are willing to lend someone a hand, few, if any, do it literally. And, as the biometrics vendors like to say, "It's hard to steal a thumb."

Biometrics And RFID: The Evidence Is In
McGaffin and Spence agree that applications for hand readers go beyond simple access control. McGaffin points to law enforcement implementations in which two technologies, biometrics and RFID (radio frequency identification), combine to secure items in an evidence room. One hand reader verifies people seeking access to the room and triggers the door to open. When one person has gained entrance, the door locks again, preventing a second person from entering. Another hand reader, inside the evidence room, permits exit. Within the room, each piece of evidence has been RFID tagged. If anyone carries evidence to or from the room, the tags are read by a bridge antenna mounted inside the door frame. "Instantly, the system has a record of which people left with which items and who brought them back," McGaffin says.

Finally, Spence sees hand readers as useful in determining employee location. "Companies may train employees to check in at designated areas in the event of an emergency or threat," Spence says. "Hand readers facilitate quick passage and provide immediate feedback about who is unaccounted for."