An access control system is a system that uses both physical barriers and software to monitor a user’s access into a computer system or building. Access control systems are often used for financial computer systems, corporate accounts and buildings, and safes. Access control systems are used all the time in our daily lives, but vary widely in complexity. The following are several examples of access control systems and definitions of the various types of access control systems that can be used to prevent unauthorized personnel from accessing a secure environment or account.
A physical access control system includes locks, walls, doors, and/or other physical barriers that prevent people from accessing a room, building, or object. Physical access control systems are often viewed as the most basic form of access control systems as they usually don’t include any computer software, but are the most often used defense against unauthorized individuals. Physical access control systems depend on keys, sliding locks, and blockades to physically prevent an individual from accessing an area.
Identification scanners use computer software to monitor the identification of an individual and may include optical scanners, fingerprint scanners, magnetic key cards, usernames and passwords, account numbers and PINs, or motion detectors. Identification systems may use physical access control systems, such as locks or doors, or may simply identify a user so that a third-party can allow the person to access an area. Typically, all identification scanners and physical access control systems fit into three categories: Non-intelligent readers, semi-intelligent readers, and intelligent readers.
Non-intelligent readers are the more basic form of access control systems. These “readers” use physical barriers to prevent unauthorized users from entering an area, but don’t have any control over the decision to allow individuals into that area. The motion sensors used in most supermarkets and hospitals, for example, are non-intelligent readers because they simply open the doors whenever a person stands next to it.
Semi-intelligent readers are more complex than non-intelligent readers, but don’t make real decisions about the individual attempting to access the system. Semi-intelligent readers depend on passwords and/or identification cards, usernames, or account numbers to identify a user. For example, ATM machines that require a user to swipe a debit card and enter a PIN number are semi-intelligent readers because they use multiple forms of identification to allow access to a bank account and may block a user who enters an incorrect PIN number more than 3-5 times.
Intelligent readers are the most complex type of access control systems and may decisions about a user who is attempting to access a secured environment. For example, a corporate vault may use optical scanners, fingerprint scanners, and/or PIN numbers to verify the identity of an individual and may decide to prevent an otherwise authorized user based on parameters such as sweaty palms, dilated pupils, or other factors that would disqualify a user from being welcome in that environment.