What is Physical Access Control?

In the United States, property crime accounts for an estimated $15.8 billion in losses, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. With this figure likely to grow, enterprises and commercial real estate teams are looking for new ways to protect their office spaces. Investing in physical access control is a starting point for many of these teams, and with advances in technology, creating one, centralized security system has never been easier.  

The Differences Between Logical and Physical Access Control Systems 

IT teams often may find themselves tasked with handling multiple aspects of security. Therefore, it’s important to understand the difference between logical and physical access control. A lot of information on the internet conflates the two types, however major differences exist.  

  • Logical Access Control restricts virtual access to computer networks, files, and data (e.g., you type a login password into your computer). 
  • Physical Access Control restricts access to a location. Physical Access Control might block access to a building or a server room or front door. The only way to gain access to a secure area is with the proper credentials. These come in forms such as key cards, fobs and smartphones. 

Though both types of access control serve unique purposes, they often work in tandem. For example, you might use a logical access control system to secure a computer where your physical access control dashboard is kept. For the purposes of this article, we’ll be focusing solely on physical access control.  

What is Physical Security? 

Physical access control is the process of securing an area, like a building, parking garage or office space. A physical access control system (PACS) is often installed to monitor and enforce physical security. PACS prevents unauthorized access to specified areas within a building or its premises.   

Often these systems fall into two categories:  

  • On-premises access control– data servers are housed and maintained on site.  
  • Cloud-based access control– data servers are housed off-site and maintained by a third-party.  

As you’ve probably guessed, on-prem access control systems have been around before cloud-based systems. They require significantly more maintenance, and the burden of this maintenance falls on the user. Updates and integrations for on-premises systems are difficult and take more time to deploy than cloud-based systems. Here are some features of on-premises access control systems:   

  • Regular maintenance is required. 
  • Time-consuming provisioning process 
  • Difficult to integrate with other security systems. 
  • Challenging to gain remote access from off-site locations.

Cloud-based access control is helping many IT and security teams centralize their security. G&J Pepsi and JAMF are among the enterprises that Genea has helped implement cloud-based access control. Some features of cloud-based access control systems include:   

  • Servers are housed off-site and maintained by a third party 
  • Sometimes a larger upfront fee is required 
  • Admins can gain access from anywhere, whether at the office or working remotely 
  • Easy to integrate with other security systems using API integrations 

One of the major advantages of a cloud-based access control system is its ability to centralize your security. Using API integrations, these access control systems can act as the security hub of your entire tech stack. The cloud easily connects video cameras, motion detectors, elevators, identity management and more. To get started, IT administrators simply enter an API token into the access control platform. Once entered, the system is ready to use.  

Genea offers many out-of-the-box integrations at no additional cost. For more information, reach out to a Genea team member

How Does Physical Access Control Work? 

Physical access control can be as simple as a lock and metal key or as complex as a two-factor authentication system. Nowadays, enterprises, commercial real estate portfolios and other industries often rely on electronic access control systems. These contain a wide range of components, including user credentials, control panels, wireless door locks and access control software. For a complete list of components, check out our blog “How Wireless Access Control Works.” 

Basically, these systems function as follows:  

  • An IT or security administrator grants access privileges to a user (e.g., an employee or visitor).  
  • The privileges are distributed to the user in the form of a physical credential like a proximity card or key fob. Alternatively, Genea customers can access their building or office using an employee badge in Apple Wallet
  • The user shows their credential to a door reader, which, in turn, scans the information.  
  • The information is transmitted via a network cable to the database where it is verified. From here, the user is let into the area, or if they’re an unauthorized person, the system door will remain locked.  

Additionally, as teams develop their security plan, they may choose to integrate with other physical components like: 

  • Video Security Systems: found outside and inside commercial and residential buildings. They frequently integrate with logical access control. 
  • Bollard Fencing and Boom Barriers deter unwanted vehicle traffic. Rising bollards are often cylindrically shaped and planted underground. With restricted access, security teams trigger the bollards to mechanically rise. 
  • Security Personnel/Human Guards: Catch these guys and gals patrolling parking lots in their security cars or walking the hallways late at night.  
  • Bulletproof Glass: single-cost, permanent fixture providing immediate defense. These windows are commonly found in banks. 
  • Mantraps: Mantraps are rooms with two interlocking doors situated across from one another. These are common in banks and high-security areas. A person enters through the first door. When that door shuts, it locks, and the second door unlocks. 

Fun Fact

The earliest known locks date back to 4000 B.C. Archeologists discovered these locks at the Palace of Khorsabad in modern-day Iraq. Though crafted from wood, the principle of these prototypical locks remains the same in modern locks. The only alternative to the wooden locks was to post a guard at the site. 

Centralized Video Surveillance and Physical Access Control 

Video surveillance, also referred to as video management systems (VMS), and cloud-based access control are two critical components of physical security. Traditionally, these systems could only integrate by way of an often expensive, custom-made integration. However, with the advent of cloud-based access control, providers have begun to provide out-of-the-box integrations. In other words, after installation, it’s possible to integrate these systems immediately.  

By combining video management with cloud-based access control, administrators create more secure systems, overall. They can watch their doors in real-time and verify access requests using video transmitted to their access control dashboard and reduce the risk of unauthorized entry. 

Many VMS’s also offer timelines, camera mapping and camera walls. 

Why Access Permissions are Important  

Whether you choose on-premises or cloud-based access control, the success of your physical security comes down to how you’ve structured your permissions. Delineating which employees get access to which spaces will fortify your security. To do this, administrators should create different levels of security either based on role or user.  

Genea provides many ways to customize your access permissions, so that you can optimize your physical security for the future.  

Looking for more information about physical access security? Talk to a Genea representative, today.  

Subscribe to our blog!

Get the latest news, product updates, and other property tech trends automatically in your inbox.