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How Does Biometric Access Control Work? (Simple Guide)

James McKellar January 26, 2021 8 min read

As technology becomes more advanced, so must all facets of our lives, from paying contactless at a shop to unlocking our phones with just our face, or opening a door with a key fob.

The term Biometric Access Control may sound a little foreign, but it’s becoming more and more popular in our everyday lives, and a growing part of access control as a whole. 

In this guide we’ll break down Biometric Access Control into a few sections to help simplify these systems, giving you the crash course on what they are, how they are used, their benefits, and more.

  • Biometric Access Control Background
  • Key components of Biometric Access Control 
  • How Biometric Access Control works
  • Biometric Access Control Benefits 
  • Industries that can implement Biometric Access Control

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What is Biometric Access Control?

Coming from the Greek meaning “Life Measure”, Biometric systems capture our unique features and use them to identify us, and gain access to doors, phones, locks, and more.

Simply put, Biometric Access Control systems can recognise us from our face, signature, DNA, fingerprint, or eye scan, creating a unique and secure way to gain access.

To understand Biometric, we must first understand the other ways we utilise our identification as a means of access. In society, we are used to two different traditional methods of identification which we’ll briefly look at below. 

Firstly, Token-Based Identification, which in short, is showing an ID as a token or proof of who we are, such as a passport or driver’s licence. 

Secondly, Knowledge-Based Identification which requires us to know certain information to access something, better known as passwords or PINs.

Both of these methods have their uses and limitations but don’t have the benefit of being completely unique to each person like a Biometric feature.

The real push for Biometrics is due to their ability to not be replicated, despite what spy films seem to tell us, it’s incredibly difficult, near impossible, to fake unique characteristics and breach a biometric system. 


Biometric Access Control Features 

As we briefly mentioned above, there are a few features that make the biometric systems different from other types of security, let us take a look at a few ways below.

How Secure are Biometric Access Control Systems?

Due to how they are designed and the fact everyone has different biometric characteristics these systems are incredibly secure and are often paired with other security systems.

Unique to the User - there are not many things you can say are truly unique to someone, especially in the security field. However, biometric characteristics and features are definitely on that shortlist, which means they are highly secure. 

Added Layer of Security - biometric systems can be used as an additional layer of security to keep more confidential or private information protected. This way only authorised users will be able granted access to certain areas, information, and locks.

Traceable - you will always know who has accessed a certain area due to the nature of biometrics. Security teams can see that person “X” was in place “Y” at a certain time.

Lower Internal Breach or Theft - when people know they will get caught they are much less likely to get involved in a criminal act or internal breach. With biometrics, it is always blindingly obvious who has accessed a system or area.

Removes Human Error - as with anything there is always a degree of error, this is almost entirely removed with a biometric system. A human could easily allow someone access with a fake ID but a machine would not allow incorrect access via biometrics.

The features above are just some of the things that keep a Biometric Access Control system secure, next we will look at biometrics against other types of identification systems.

Are Biometric Access Control Systems Better than Other ID Systems?

As we looked at in the beginning of this guide, we are used to traditional ID systems, whether that be a physical ID such as a passport, or a knowledge ID such as a password. 

So, let us look at how other ID systems compare to Biometric Access Control.

Passwords are Hackable - unfortunately, regardless of how many capital letters, numbers, and special characters we use in our passwords they will always be susceptible to hacking. Biometrics can not be hacked, and a face/fingerprint can not be stolen. 

Physical IDs and Passwords can be Shared - as much as we don’t want it to happen, sometimes passwords are shared, or someone borrows an ID as they forgot theirs. It happens, but it is a limitation of traditional ID methods, this doesn’t happen with biometrics.

IDs can be Faked - if countless films and TV have taught us anything, it is fairly easy to get a fake ID and infiltrate a building or workplace. But despite this feeling like fiction, it is a very real threat and is another reason why biometrics are more secure.

Biometrics are Trackable - if an internal theft or breach occurs, it is a lot easier to make a shortlist and work out who has accessed a system. This is especially easy if you are using a facial recognition system, as you can see who it was.

You can Lose/Forget a Key or Password - there are countless instances where people lose a key or forget their password, it happens to the best of us. With a biometric system, you only need yourself to be granted access.

So, it looks like Biometric Access Control Systems are better than traditional methods for a whole host of reasons. Each method has its own merits and usages, meaning it is unlikely we will ever remove any entirely. 


How does Biometric Access Control work? 

As alluded to before, biometrics is defined as the biological characteristics of individuals, which can be used to grant access to devices, locks, doors, and more.

It works by using these biological characteristics to generate identification data for each person and the input of that data, such as a fingerprint will access the lock, device, or door.

The system is a complex form of pattern recognition that will create stored data on the individual’s biometrics, for instance, saving the pattern of your fingerprint. 

This stored data will be compared to the one entered by the individual each time, and if they are identical, they will be able to have access. 

However, this isn’t technically true, as no two data captures in biometrics will ever be scientifically identical. The system has to determine whether they are sufficiently similar to be taken from the same user.

The way identification data samples are stored means that they cannot be reproduced or changed without the original person being present.

Biometric Access Control is frequently used on our phones and something we have not even thought about, despite the fact we see it every day. But outside of mobile devices, there are a lot of additional applications for security. 

Some Biometric systems actually require proof of life, which is an added level of security. As the name suggests, the user has to be alive to use it, sorry spy films.


What are the benefits of Biometric Access Control?

Biometric Access Control can be used in a variety of different ways to increase security and ensure information is safely secured and kept. Due to the nature of how Biometric data works, it would be almost impossible to fake data and have the wrong person granted access.

Biometric Access Control Security Benefits 

Not Replicable - no two biometric data readings are the same, even two submitted by the same person. So it would be incredibly hard to trick a biometric scanner without the permitted user present. This is a major benefit over traditional systems.

Cannot Be Shared - needless to say, you cannot share your characteristics such as fingerprint or face. Having a security system that cannot be compromised by sharing makes biometric scanners effective and secure.

Two-Factor Authentication - biometrics can be paired with other security elements to make a secure and all-encompassing approach, that covers all bases. For example, users may need to enter a password and then their fingerprint or a facial scan to access certain areas or data.

Simple Management - with the majority of Biometric systems, adding, editing, and removing users is easy and ensures only active personnel and users are granted access.

Biometric Access Control Implementation Benefits 

Ease of Use - there is seldom a learning curve with these security systems as we are fairly used to them. On the off chance someone has not, it is not hard to explain putting your thumb on a pad, for example.

Use on Mobile Devices - you would struggle to find someone who has not at some point seen or used Biometrics to access their phone. Whether this is using their face to unlock their phone or a fingerprint for payment or app access. This can help secure mobile information with ease. 

Users Only Need Themselves - biometric systems are easy to get used to, and save users having to fumble around finding a key or a card. These systems save time and effort by being instantly accessible by permitted users.

Biometric Access Control General Benefits

Efficient - the speed at which a Biometric Access Control system confirms an identity is usually much quicker than the time it takes to enter a password or a manual ID check. We see this efficiency most in places such as airports using biometrics.

Reduced Costs - biometric systems can offer a few different ways to lower costs, from not re-cutting keys or IDs, to the reduction of security staff, to work hours saved.

No Replacement Fee - you do not need to pay for a new ID if someone loses it, as they will always have it with them. This not only saves on admin, but keeps security tight, and wasted time down. 


What industries can benefit from Biometric Access Control?

Unlike some of the other forms of Access Control, Biometric has more specific industrial uses and might not be common in all niches, here are a few examples where it can be most beneficial. 

  • Theme parks and entertainment 
  • Airports and border control
  • Banking 
  • Police and Law Enforcement
  • Automotive
  • Financial Services
  • Private Security
  • Education
  • Hospitality 
  • Retail
  • Healthcare
  • Prisons and Correctional Facilities 
  • Commercial 

Biometric Access Control can be found in a lot of industries and has a host of everyday uses. We will only see a rise in the number of businesses who are using biometrics in their security. 

If you want to improve your security, limit access to certain areas or information, and tailor an individualised plan to protect your business then look at Biometric Access Control.

To learn more about Access Control, take a look at our previous blogs on Physical Access Control and Key Fob Access Control.

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It seems that people and vehicle access control is an incredibly complex world using hard to understand technology, yet it impacts so many of the environments we interact with on a daily basis.

We are here to fill in the disconnect. We'll break down access control, the benefits, and drawbacks as well, including expert insight based on over 30 years experience in the industry operating as an independent British company. Our goal is to give you ALL the information so you know what's right for you.

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James McKellar

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