PROXIMITY CARD READERS

Types of proximity card readers

While many proximity readers may look the same, they can function very differently depending on their power supply and connecting back to the access control system. There are four common types of proximity card readers available for access control. When installing proximity card readers, it’s essential to know which class provides the best security for your space.

Wired proximity card readers

The most common type of proximity card reader used in commercial HID access control applications, wired prox card readers include Weigand readers and RS-485 readers. Because they communicate using the Wiegand protocol, they are compatible with almost every type of access control system. However, the Wiegand protocol has been around since the 1970s, which means it’s more prone to hacking. To ensure proximity card readers using a Wiegand protocol are secure, choose readers with advanced end-to-end encryption and additional protections against tampering, such as the RS-485 readers from Openpath. These standard prox card readers sometimes include different options and usually support some combination of RFID, Bluetooth (BLE), or NFC formats. 

Wireless proximity readers

Wireless proximity readers are battery-powered to eliminate the need to wire back to a control panel. They are most often used for large deployments in hotels and apartment complexes where it would be cost-prohibitive to wire each door. They usually require localized access points throughout the building to communicate with an Internet-connected central control panel. One of the downsides of this type of proximity card reader is checking and replacing batteries to ensure proper functionality.

Standalone proximity card readers

 These decentralized card readers are limited in functionality as they do not connect back to a control panel. Because they have no data connection, they cannot be managed or programmed remotely, which is why they often include a PIN pad. When installed on the unsecured side of the door, they’re also prone to tampering and hacking, as they store sensitive user and credential access control data locally. These proximity card readers are best-suited for small internal deployments that won’t need added security features, such as a supply closet.

IP-connected proximity readers

This more advanced reader has no direct connection between the reader and controller. The Ethernet connection allows them to integrate into IT systems for a more automated, flexible security system. However, it’s important to note that this type of system should meet high-level encryption and cybersecurity standards to ensure your space is secure. If your IP is compromised, your building security is also at risk.

Benefits of proximity card readers for access control

There’s a good reason why proximity card readers are so familiar with offices and commercial spaces worldwide. First, they are reasonably simple to implement. Proximity card reader technology has been around for decades. People are familiar with using them, so they require little training or ramp-up time once installed.

Proximity cards can also provide a contactless access experience. Unlike swipe cards, prox cards don’t need to be inserted into or swiped through a reader to work. The proximity card has a metallic antenna coil embedded inside that holds encoded data. The proximity card readers use an electromagnetic field to detect nearby cards and transmit data through the reader to the HID access control panel. The control panel sends a signal back to the reader to trigger a door unlock if the card is authorized. You can also use proximity technology in critical fobs, clamshell cards, or stickers. That is great for implementing touchless technology to create healthier spaces.

Proximity card systems can provide businesses with trackable entry activity and data analytics for their space depending on the access control software. A cloud-based access control platform like Openpath will give the most flexibility, giving administrators and facilities teams remote access to manage their HID access control system from anywhere.

Security concerns and pitfalls of proximity card readers

As with any good physical security measure, your proximity card reader needs to be secure and reliable. A well-known legacy access control system may seem like an intelligent choice. Still, because this technology has been around for many decades, there are some security vulnerabilities to be aware of. When looking at how someone would compromise a proximity reader, there are a surprising number of exposures. For example, almost anyone could hack an HID proximity card reader with a device purchased online. If your proximity card reader has any of the following vulnerabilities, it’s time to upgrade.

  • Short read range — The read range is the distance the reader can detect a nearby credential. The read range will vary by device. Distance is an important consideration when installing a security system. For example, a turnstile or front door should have a shorter read range so that people need to be close to the reader to request an unlock. That will help prevent tailgating incidents. However, for parking garage deployments, the read range needs to be farther to account for vehicle size and users’ credentials to communicate with the reader from inside the vehicle. 
  • Hackable backend hardware  Door access readers are unfortunately a popular target for criminals who want to steal data and vandalize businesses. One thing to keep in mind when installing new readers is backward compatibility. Suppose you’re running your security system on outdated legacy backend hardware. In that case, even the most advanced prox card readers could be exposed to security vulnerabilities. One way to combat this on a hybrid access control system model is to use a system with end-to-end encryption at every level of communication, with extra protection against hardware hacking.
  • Data stored locally — Some proximity readers store data at the local level, making it easy for potential criminals to gain access to it. This often-overlooked security pitfall could compromise your entire system. Openpath’s card readers are setting up as a blind proxy between the credential and control unit, so they offer no value to hackers looking for a way in. They also have built-in alerts against tampering. 
  • No backups or fail-safes — In the case of a power or Internet outage, a backup power source is essential to keeping your system up and running. Without a backup option or a failsafe protocol, people could be locking out of the building, or the doors could remain unlocked without you even knowing. Make sure your system offers offline functionality so you don’t get locked out in an emergency and a way to connect to an alternative power source or backup battery. 
  • Key cards are quickly coping — Key cards are one of the most widely used access methods for businesses worldwide. However, some key fobs and cards pose a serious security risk. Like those with low-frequency HID proximity card readers, they can easily copy many standard vital cards with a $10 device. Instead, look for systems that offer more secure prox cards. Openpath uses DESFire EV1 128-bit AES cryptographic cards with digitally signed identifiers. They provide the most robust encryption and security available, with no publicly known vulnerabilities.

Planning, costs, and installation for proximity card readers

There are a surprising amount of factors that go into choosing the right access control system for your space. When it comes to finding a proximity card reader that works for your building, an HID access control installer will look at the locks on your doors. The wiring needed for the system, the amount of space you have, and other desired security features before installing new readers.

Door locking mechanisms

Not all HID access control providers are compatible with all door locks. However, proximity card readers are designed to work with the electric, wired locking mechanisms common in most commercial spaces. Your access control system installer will tell you what type of security systems are compatible. If you’re starting construction from scratch, consult a security expert to get the best door locks installed in your building.

 

Mounting specs for prox readers

One of the things an HID access control consultant will check before recommending a product is the space required to install your desired prox card reader. Depending on your area, some proximity card readers may not fit, especially if you’re working with a narrow doorway. Aesthetics are also something to consider at this time. The incumbent HID proximity readers can look bulky and dated in a modern office environment. Openpath Smart Readers are award-winning for their sleek, elegant design, which can be mounted flush with the wall to blend right into your space. The Openpath readers come in Standard size and a slimmer Mullion option for space-saving installation.

 

Wiring architecture

One of the top concerns with upgrading an existing system is having to rip and replace all the old wiring for the new hardware when it comes to HID access control. One of the benefits of proximity card readers like Openpath’s Smart Readers is standard wiring architecture. That means installation is quick and straightforward and won’t require tearing out the existing wiring. Not all proximity card readers use standard wiring, so it’s essential to work with an integrator when planning your access control installation to understand the full scope of the project.

 

Proximity card reader cost

It’s essential to have a budget in mind before you start an access control project. The cost of your system will depend on your existing infrastructure, how many readers you need, and the type of credentials you choose. Remember that crucial cards can be costly to maintain, and you’ll need to order replacement cards frequently. Choose a product designed to be future-proof with a more flexible reader that can accommodate different access methods (like mobile credentials) and connect to other building systems. You’re less likely to need to replace the system every few years to keep up with the most recent security developments.

Is a proximity card reader system suitable for your space?

Proximity card readers are an excellent choice for commercial spaces that need convenient, contactless access control. A proximity reader system allows you to secure office spaces, lobby turnstiles, and parking garages with modern access control solutions.

Before deciding on a system, ask yourself what is most important for your building security. If you want a combination of mobile access control credentials and prox cards, ensure the proximity readers you choose can support flexible credential types. Openpath offers encrypted DESFire EV2 access cards, which can be used alongside convenient mobile credentials; plus, Openpath is backward compatible with many legacy access cards. That means that once you install Openpath Smart Readers, you won’t have to re-issue new prox cards to your entire organization.

Additionally, security experts recommend HID access control solutions that run on a cloud platform, which is often more secure and easier to manage remotely. Openpath’s cloud-based access control software ensures a smooth transition, seamlessly integrating with leading directory management platforms to sync users automatically. Plus, the remote platform allows admins to issue or revoke credentials at any time instantly.

Schedule a site walk with a security expert if you’re thinking about installing a proximity card reader with an access control system for your space. They’ll perform a security audit, evaluate your area, and identify where and what type of system is best for you. Contact the security experts at Openpath today to get started with a custom price quote.

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