What are proximity card readers?

The demand for access control card readers has grown rapidly and is valued at $3.83 billion. This can be seen with physical security becoming an important priority for enterprises, hospitals, hotels, commercial real estate firms and schools

While there are many types of access control, from biometrics to smart card readers, the most prevalent is proximity card readers. These readers work in three stages:

  1. They use an electromagnetic field to detect proximity cards within the activation radius.
  2. They transmit the data to the access control controller for the authorization of cards.
  3. They trigger a door unlock immediately after the access control controller sends back a signal authorizing the card.  

It’s important to understand the various types of proximity access control available for your building. Learn about proximity card readers available on the market and the advantages and pitfalls of proximity access control systems, as well as its compatibility with your system.

Types of Proximity Card Readers

Proximity card readers are often classified into several types, including wired, wireless, standalone and IP-connected proximity card readers.

  • Wired proximity readers: Catering to the physical security needs of buildings since the 1970s, wired proximity readers use the Wiegand protocol to communicate with other devices.
  • Wireless proximity readers: These are battery-powered proximity readers that don’t require wires to connect with the control panel and other hardware devices on the network. These readers are often seen in places such as large enterprises, hospitals, hotels and commercial real estate properties.
  • Standalone proximity readers: As the name suggests, these are decentralized card readers that don’t connect back and communicate to the access control panel. They are best suited for single-door small offices that don’t require advanced security features.
  • IP-connected proximity readers: IP readers are advanced access control readers that can be fully integrated into the IT systems at the workplace. With no direct connection between the card reader and its controller, this system will provide a more automated and flexible access control solution for your building.

Advantages of Proximity Card Readers

Security professionals use proximity access control systems instead of traditional key-swipe access control solutions because of their ease of use, cost-effectiveness and contactless capabilities.

Ease of Use

Proximity card readers are one of the oldest access control systems on the market. They have been around for the last few decades, helping enterprises secure their employees and physical assets.

Proximity readers are often installed into the door frame and can be used with existing hardware such as smart locks and deadbolts. They do not require any software or programming to operate. Since the technology is familiar, it requires little training for security administrators and end users.

Contactless Access

Access control systems, such as keypads and fingerprints, that require users to touch the access card reader for authentication are unhygienic. Many businesses are shifting to contactless access control technologies, eliminating the need for users to touch card readers. Proximity access control is a suitable solution for enterprises looking to provide a contactless access experience to their employees and guests.

Trackable Entry Activity

Security professionals should track the access activities of users 24/7 to provide a secure environment within the building. For this, enterprises should use access control technology that can be easily paired with cloud-based platforms. Doing so enables security administrators to monitor access activities from anywhere, at anytime, with any device.

Many cloud-based access control systems, including Genea, are compatible with proximity access technology to provide a seamless access experience for users. Genea Security enables your office administrators to assign access credentials to users in the form of smart access cards and monitor their access activities by recording access logs.  

Pitfalls of Proximity Card Readers

Proximity card readers are not suitable for all security situations. The technology has several pitfalls that must be addressed with add-on systems. The following are the security concerns and pitfalls you should address if you want your proximity access control technology to work efficiently and reliably.

Lacking in the Read Range

Insufficient read range is the biggest pitfall of proximity access control technology. Read range is the activation radius within which the access reader can detect access cards, key fobs and key tags. Security professionals are highly concerned about activation radius while installing a  proximity access control system.

For instance, internal doors, front doors and turnstiles may need a short activation radius to avoid tailgating. However, the parking gates may need a long-range access reader to accommodate vehicle size and allow drivers to authenticate their credentials from the vehicle.

The read range may also differ based on the communication technology the proximity access readers use. For instance, NFC-enabled proximity access readers can detect access cards only if they are within four to six centimeters. Bluetooth-enabled proximity readers, on the other hand, can detect access cards from a distance of up to 10 meters.  

You should compare the read range of various communication technologies and choose the right one that fits your requirement.

Backend Hardware is Hackable

Proximity access readers that run on outdated backend hardware are vulnerable to hacking.

This is why security professionals often want to use systems that provide end-to-end encryption (E2EE) at every level of communication. E2EE ensures that the data is decrypted only on the personal computer or smartphone of authorized users, but not on the server. Even if the server is breached, the hackers will only gain access to encrypted data, which is difficult to understand.

Alternatively, this pitfall can be eliminated if security professionals use cloud-based access control systems like Genea that use Transport Layer Security (TLS), a public key encryption protocol, to keep sensitive information away from intermediaries.

Data Stored Locally

Most proximity readers store data on local servers, allowing potential bad actors to easily gain access to it. Security professionals often overlook this drawback and go ahead with on-premises servers that enable them not to expose critical data to the outside world.

You can use Genea Cloud Access Control, which replaces the traditional on-premise servers with remote servers located in the cloud. The cloud architecture allows the data to be transmitted between access readers and the remote server without the need for data to be stored locally.  

No Backup Options or Fail Safes

Not all proximity access readers come with power backup and failsafe protocols. If this happens, your proximity access control system will stop working if there is a power or network outage, leaving your building vulnerable to both internal and external threats. The fail-safe protocols are vital because they facilitate free egress to people inside the building when an emergency like a fire breakout occurs. If you see this pitfall in your existing proximity access control system, you may consider an upgrade.

Smart Cards Can Be Copied

Businesses use proximity cards widely to increase convenience for users. However, emulating and copying these smart cards is an easy task. If you are currently using low-frequency prox cards that are vulnerable to security risks, you may need to replace them with cryptographic cards with digitally signed identifiers.

Alternatively, you can use Genea Security which allows people to use their BLE- or NFC-enabled smartphones to gain access through a locked door.

Genea Security Works with HID Proximity Card Readers

Proximity access control is a perfect solution if you are looking for convenient and cost-effective access control for your building. The technology is easy to implement, easy to use, and contactless. However, you may need to consider upgrading your proximity access control readers if you find pitfalls such as insufficient read range, vulnerable backend hardware, local data storage, and no backups or fail safes. Businesses should consider implementing a cloud-based access control solution like Genea that effectively work with HID’s proximity card readers. Schedule a demo to learn how Genea Security works with your existing readers and automates your physical security system.