Beyond aesthetics there are several considerations to be made in selecting the best card reader for your needs, maybe more than you had considered?
Let’s start with the two most obvious ones, before we move on to the others…
Existing Card Types
If you already have smart cards in use, the first step is to ensure that the card readers can read the existing card technology.
The most commonly supported card types are HID and MiFare which most readers will support, however some other card technologies may reduce the number of available options.
Supporting multiple card technologies
If the card readers are to be installed in core circulation areas of a mixed use or multi-tenanted building, selecting a card reader that can support a variety of different card technologies will reduce the need to have a separate building and tenant card.
This is especially important where potential tenants may be large corporate organisations who will insist that their staff can use their corporate standard cards rather than having different ones for specific locations.
The card reader shall also need to communicate with the access control system, unless we are working with a new site design, there will already be an communications method such as Wiegand, Rs485 or OSDP already in place.
Wiegand is no longer recommended for new installations due to the lack of security available in comparison to OSDP.
While commonly surface or flush mounted, readers may also need to be mullion mounted or mounted Fonto a post.
Readers are also commonly mounted into other devices such as turnstiles, lift destination operator panels and key cabinets, so the physical size and mounting options may also be a consideration.
It is important to ensure that the type of reader selected is appropriate for the environment it will be installed in, for example, readers used in the Middle East will require a higher operating temperature and humidity level, whereas, in the UK, readers mounted outside need a higher rating against water ingress.
Operating temperatures and humidity information is usually detailed in the manufacturer’s data sheet, where as water ingress ratings are described using the Ingress Protection (IP) Ratings system.
Some doors may require the ability to verify the identity of the cardholder with a PIN code, this can be achieved with a standlone PIN pad, however this functionality is usually incorporated within the card reader.
Readers from multiple manufacturers are producing readers being marketed as intelligent readers.
These typically incorporate an LCD screen, either touch based or supplemented with buttons that can provide the cardholder with more information than simply whether their card is authorised or not.
These readers may ask the cardholder a series of questions after their card is presented to ensure compliance with health and safety requirements or may inform the cardholder that their permit to work in a specific area will expire, and when.
Traditionally, card readers and cards have been manufactured by one organisation, with the access control system produced by another.
This has meant that usually decryption of the data stored within the card is done at the reader, which is usually outside the building or area being protected.
This can give a skilled attacker the ability to extract or reverse engineer the encryption data stored within the memory of the readerto allow them to create additional authorised cards for their use at any site with the same encryption key.
Worse still, once this information is decrypted, it is sent to the controller over an unsecured Wiegand interface which allows the attacker to eavesdrop and capture the information.
Some manufacturers are now offering so called transparent readers where the encryption keys are stored within the controller on the secured side of the building and use a highly encrypted link to transmit the encrypted data from the card to the door controller.
Smart cards have a typical lifespan of 3–5 years before the underlying encryption or security of the card is compromised, given that the average access control system will last between 10–15 years we have a clear mismatch.
Some manufacturers have opted to produce card readers where their functionality is controlled by software, in most cases, the underlying physical hardware does not change.
The biggest changes are usually related to encryption and additional functions which are software based.
This allows the owner to install a particular card reader type and then upgrade or reconfigure it remotely with software to support newer card technologies, or additional functions.
This allows the client to keep pace with changes in card security and protects their investment.