The Access-Control Benefits of Bluetooth Technology

BLE-enabled readers are gaining in popularity, and increased convenience and secure encryption are just a few of their advantages.

Ed. Note: This article was previously posted at Campus Safety.

Ongoing concerns for security, along with advances in wireless and other technologies used in security systems, are helping to fuel growth in the access-control market. While existing proximity ID-based readers are proven access-control workhorses, what campus security technology professionals are learning is that 125 kHz prox technologies have experienced documented security vulnerabilities. Hackers have found ways to easily clone prox credentials.

To remedy this weakness, the industry started moving to smart 13.56 MHz credentials, and now many are making the move to using smartphones where access-control credentials can be replaced with mobile technologies utilizing higher encrypted credentials tied to the smartphone. This article will outline the multiple advantages of switching to mobile Bluetooth-based access-control solutions. It will show how security can be increased with encrypted Bluetooth credentials, removing the cloning and hacking concerns associated with prox credentials.

A Growing Access-Control Trend
The access-control trend in adopting smartphones tracks their evolutionary use. According to Pew Research, 85 percent of Americans now own a smartphone and even a higher percentage (95 percent) are owned by individuals ages 18 to 49. Security system installers are seeing higher customer demand to deploy the most secure technology and access-control solutions possible.

An estimated 20 percent of all organizations last year made the switch to using mobile credentials for access control. One good reason is that smartphones have inherent credential protection and built-in convenience factors such as biometrics or personal identification numbers that make them more attractive and secure for access.

Bluetooth-Based Solutions Offer Many Advantages
The main reason Bluetooth is so attractive for access control is that it can be used with a person’s smartphone, which is already utilized for so many other tasks. Familiar and widely applied, Bluetooth technology is recognized by anyone who has set up a smartphone or laptop. A further advantage is that using smartphones eliminates the hassle of remembering keys or a prox card.

The most significant security benefit realized with Bluetooth and 13.56 MHz credentials is that they are encrypted, making them much harder for hackers to clone. Another advantage is that Bluetooth provides a varying read range option that spans from inches to more than 30 feet. Installers can select the read range that best suits the application, whether it is to secure a single room or the entry to an entire facility or parking structure.

The type of technology used in mobile access-control applications is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). This very efficient and high-performance technology is resident in virtually every smartphone and provides ample bandwidth for an encrypted security credential and future access services. A typical BLE-based access-control system is set up via a Bluetooth-enabled reader wired to the access-control panel and the credential holder’s smartphone. Installation is very simply handled through the phone’s cellular data network or a secure Wi-Fi connection.

An Internet connection is only required during the initial setup and download of the BLE credential; it is not required for a user’s door access with their mobile credentials. Highly secure BLE credentials are easy to purchase, deploy and use since no new software or additional programming is required, and many Bluetooth-based readers are panel-agnostic, so they can be used on any existing Wiegand-compatible access-control panel.

Key Features to Seek
With many Bluetooth readers from which to select, what are the top features to look for that best match your organization’s needs now and in the future? One important differentiator offers an easier way to distribute credentials with features that permit users to register only once, removing the need for portal accounts or other activation features. By removing these additional information disclosures, privacy concerns that have slowed acceptance of mobile access systems are eliminated.

It is also beneficial to seek out BLE readers that have several options to customize access control in a secured way. For instance, does the associated app use credentials that are stored on the phone or mobile device and not on a separate server? Also, does the app allow Bluetooth credentials security to be further enhanced by the phone’s built-in fingerprint scanner or face unlock? These features maximize security when mobile credentials are used. Also, users gain 128-bit AES encryption benefits with 13.56 MHz readers as opposed to legacy prox (125 kHz) cards that transmit card data in plain text, which is not protected by encryption.

Providing a flexible upgrade option for buildings and offices that already have a prox or smart-card system, organizations should look for Bluetooth readers that support both BLE and traditional cards and fobs. This allows site administrators to migrate users over to more secure Bluetooth credentials at a time that best suits their needs. These readers are also well-suited for newly constructed facilities, enabling administrators to do away with legacy prox credentials and directly adopt BLE or smart credentials.

Bluetooth Provides Enhanced Security via Mobile Apps
Because 13.56 MHz information is extremely difficult to clone, and by combining the BLE reader solutions with advanced mobile apps now available, users get the added convenience of touchless entry, as well as the flexibility to have both physical and mobile credentials. These new mobile apps are able to securely store and deliver mobile credentials to personal devices.

Furthermore, some apps provide the ability to customize options to specific end-user needs and store multiple credentials with a color-coded labeling system to distinguish between the credentials. Security and credential protection are enhanced using a smartphone’s built-in biometric sensors. There is no portal login or onboarding process required, so a user’s information stays secure and private. In addition, many new apps only require a one-time registration of a user’s cellphone number.

Convenience and Security Are Other Benefits
Bluetooth readers deliver the ability to use both physical and mobile credentials, giving organizations new options and user conveniences they didn’t have before. As a standardized wireless technology solution, Bluetooth readers are gaining popularity because they do not require additional network equipment.

Mark Prowten is the director of product management for Nice/Nortek Control’s Linear brand. This article was originally featured in CS sister publication Security Sales & Integration and has been edited.

Exhibitors at RFID Journal LIVE! 2022 will offer BLE-based access-control solutions, as well as systems using other technologies. To learn more, visit the event’s website.

 

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