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Card Access Systems Guide


A security system that allows users to access doors with an electronic keycard (a plastic card that has a magnetically coded strip scanned in order to operate a mechanism) instead of a traditional key. Card access system controls the access at different level of the organization and keeps track of customers, employees, contractors, and other personnel accessing certain areas of your facility.



How does electronic card access work?


Types of cardholder credentials


Key Fob and Micro Tag


How card access systems benefit your Business?


Tips to Improve Business Security

How does electronic card access work?

Card access systems works in a relationship between a plastic card and an electronic access control locks. Depending on the system, the card may contain a coded magnetic stripe that needs to be swiped into the card reader or metallic engraving that are used to trigger magnets inside the device, or even RFID technology. RFID cards function in the similar pattern except in this case, the card is brought into close proximity to a sensor. At this time, the reader, creates an electromagnetic field that is able to transmit its number or code to the reader through electronic circuit to the access control panel, which verifies if the number or code matches an approved number in the database. If the card is valid, access is granted, the door is unlocked for a short time and the entry or exit is recorded. If access is denied, the door remains locked and if someone attempts access, it gets recorded. The system also monitors the door and alarms if a door is forced open or held open for a long time after being unlocked. Each card is coded to respond to a particular card reader, a lock or a set of locks and an individual card is programmed by a computer with a unique electronic signature.

Types of cardholder credentials

There are different types of cardholder credentials– Holecards, Barcode, swipe card, Weigand card, prox card, key fob. Although they sound different but functions in a similar pattern. They are simple in use with some providing more security than others.

Holecards or Mechanical

Holecards are the earliest type of keycard systems.

In 1975, inventor Tor Sornes devised a system operated by a plastic key card with a pattern of holes. There were 32 positions for possible hole locations, with approximately 4.3 billion different keys. The key could change for each new guest by inserting a new key template in the lock that matched the new key. It locks employ detainers which must be arranged in pre-selected positions by the key before the bolt move. The card would correspond to a lock and would open a door when it’s inserted into a slot in the door. In 1980s, the key card lock was electrified with light emitting diodes that detected the holes. With technology advancement, this card security system gained less importance due to lack of coding.

Barcode cards

Barcode card outranked the Holecard system with innovative infrared technology.

An unique individual bar code is created to match with a particular lock. The code is printed on a card, works similar to the bar code found on many products. When the bar code is placed under an electronic scanner, it unlocks the respective door. The drawback to this system was bar codes could be forged and the electronic reader can be easily fooled. These cards lost popularity with the invention of the magnetic strip keycard.

Magnetic strip keycard or Swipe cards

It’s a thin metallic strip on the back of the card, just like a credit card.

This card is swiped through a scanner, functions by running the magnetic stripe over a sensor that reads the contents of the stripe. The stripe’s data is compared to the data that is either stored locally in the lock or those of a central system. If the content is valid, access is granted by authenticating with an electronic signature on the card, otherwise the access is denied. These keycard access are more secure than the previous ones. Magnetic strip keycard systems are widely used in the workplace security and hotels.

Weigand cards

These system set the keycode permanently in the card using magnetic wires.

The code cannot be reprogrammed as magnetic strip cards or erased by magnetic field. Many electronic access control locks use a Wiegand interface to connect the card swipe mechanism to the rest of the access control system.

Radio frequency identification (RFID) Proximity cards

It uses the newest technology. RFID cards have a radio chip embedded inside the card that uses sensor.

By bringing the card in close proximity to the respective programmed reader, the door unlocks. It uses microchips and radio technology, providing highest level of security and the most difficult to forge. The benefit with RFID cards is that they do not need to be removed from the wallet or pass holder, the keycard reader can usually read them from a few inches away. They are most widely used in commercial office spaces.

Key Fob

Type of badge security token or a durable hardware small device that authenticates user logging into their business network. They are used to authenticate places where there is a constant human traffic. They are generally placed in a key ring for convenience. It incorporates 25 kHz or 13.65 MHz reader technology for door and gate access. Key fobs is widely used in offices, buildings, condominiums, gym, fitness centers with 24/7 access to members and in different businesses.

Micro Tag

Small tag sticker that uses HID proximity technology. Converts a photo ID to a proximity card by tagging into a nonmetallic device. It easily attaches to a mobile device and other objects.

How card access systems benefit Your Business?

Below are the advantages of card access system that keeps the facility secure:


Record Keeping

Businesses keep track of the employee’s entry/exit time.

During a theft, something goes missing or an alarm is tripped, a keycard access system allows you to retrace everyone’s paths through the doors set up in the system. The system generate reports summarizing which doors was accessed and what time the specific user accessed them. These built-in functionalities are embedded within the keycard access system, making it more convenient to track without continuous monitoring.

What information is been stored in the system?

  • Date and time of credential read
  • Unique ID number or badge number
  • Name of credential holder
  • Name of door or reader being accessed
  • Access granted/denied condition

Many businesses desire this kind of audit trail, especially banks and IT industries.


Multiple locations

Several properties can be monitored from one location or server.

Businesses can monitor security control over several buildings located in a large geographical area. Rather than remembering the multiple codes, a system can be coded to accept keycard access at multiple locations. Different rules can be implemented for different locations. For example, at one location, the employee has complete access, at another they have only business hours access, and at a third they have to be approved every time.

A keycard access allows a company to monitor all office locations located around the world from a centralized main office. Regardless of the technology – swipe, RFID, or Bluetooth – one governing system will control the entire facility. Cities can keep track of several buildings throughout a large area.


Restrict access

This is a huge benefit to the businesses with a simplified process of granting and revoking access to employees.

In the past, with a lock and key system, when an employee left the company or was terminated, or a key was lost, the entire facility would need to be rekeyed for security purpose. With keycard, the process becomes lot easier. An authorized person needs to access the credentials record and deactivate the employee’s keycard access.

Grant Access

Granting access works in the similar way like restricting access.

When an employee onboards in the company, an authorized person simply accesses the credential manager or other management tool and adds or activates a card for that employee.

Improve productivity

Keycard makes the process productive because the employees are responsible for their locations in the facility.

Helps to keep track of team members and increase overall productivity.

No Unauthorized Written Records

The system set the keycode in the card which cannot be physically stolen unless the employee writes the code somewhere.

It should always be remembered that keycard code shouldn’t be written anywhere for personal and business security.

Implement a lockdown procedure

Its beneficial during emergency situation.

Access can be granted or revoked without the need to update the entire lock system.

Logging Access Activity

Audit trail obtained by recorded log activity for every individual since every card is unique.

The log activity includes who accessed the facility, how much time that person was in the facility and how many times the facility was accessed by that individual. This is helpful during theft or missing information.

Easier to Change

A keycard is a physical object and it can be stolen.

Since each card is unique, replacing it and locking out the old card is easy. Once the old card is deactivated, it can never be used. Alerts are sent if anyone tries to use the card before deactivation. The new card has a unique signature from the old card, which means the employee can be granted access without concern over who has the old card. This is a much easier process for an employee than memorizing a new key code.

Difficult to duplicate

In the past, with lock and key system, the physical keys could be copied very easily.

But with keycard, its nearly impossible to duplicate an electronic key because it has a higher degree of sophistication with advanced technology making it more secure.

Reduce Windshield and Repair Time

If a tech needs different access to handle an emergency in the field, his or her rights can be updated.

This way, the tech can travel directly to the emergency without returning to the office, reducing costly windshield time and accelerating repairs.

Flexible – can be used for External or Internal Access Control

External control is used by businesses or organizations who want to control access to their facilities.

Examples are storage facilities, manufacturing sites, college dormitories or other businesses. Other uses are for parking garages. These system can require an entrance and exit before the same card can be used again in order to control parking lots.

Key cards are used for internal doors to control access to highly sensitive areas such as hospital supply rooms, guard shacks, or IT areas where private information is stored. Schools use them for classrooms to prevent theft and restrict access to certain areas of the school such as the computer labs. Hotels or apartment buildings also use internal card entry systems in elevators to restrict access to adjust the floor guests or tenants and are very common for jails and courthouses to restrict access to certain levels. Keycard access is also used in the public areas of the building such as the lobby or the restaurant floors.


Individually programmed

Entry key cards are programmed for each individual, allowing businesses to customize access for each person.

A business can choose to grant full access or limit access during scheduled times. This has many practical applications. Just to cite examples : managers may be given full access while limiting access for regular employees to just the office hours of 7:00 am to 5:00 pm.  Or stock custodians may be granted access to storerooms, but other employees may be restricted.

Pair with Video Surveillance system

Pairing with video system allow visual supervision of individuals entering and exiting the facility.

For additional security, companies choose to pair access control systems with video surveillance to ensure authentication on entry/exit of the facility. Once access is granted, video surveillance is activated in the particular door being accessed making it easy to verify the person’s access to that facility.

Tips to Improve Business Security

There is no doubt saying, “Installing a card access system is the best way to keep your business secure.” But there are other options also that you might want to consider. Here at Umbrella Technologies, we have the ability to take your security in hand and ensure the safety and efficiency of your facilities. Here are some steps you can implement today:

Right planning is required to keep your business safe and productive.

Get a free consultation today!

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