Access control systems are there to protect our privacy. Are the devices we install safe from hacking?
By Firas Jadalla, Regional Director for the Middle East, Turkey and Africa (META)
It’s not surprising that people are nervous about the security of newer technologies, many of which are part of the Internet of Things (IoT). While they offer greater efficiency and connectivity, some people still hesitate. After all, there seems to be a constant stream of news stories about multinational corporations being breached or hackers taking control of smart home devices.
Both of these scenarios can feel personal. No one likes the idea of their data falling into criminal hands.
And we especially don’t like the thought that someone can, even virtually, come into our private spaces. The reality, though, is that, when you choose the right technology and undertake the proper procedures, IoT devices are incredibly secure.
That said, one of the spaces where we see continued confusion is around access control systems (ACS) that are deployed over networks, particularly in relation to mobile access, smartcards, and electronic locks. These technologies are often perceived as being less secure and therefore more vulnerable to attacks than older ACS systems or devices.
In the interest of clearing up any confusion, it is important to provide good, reliable information. With this in mind, there are some myths out there about the security of ACS that need to be debunked.
Myth #1: Mobile credentials are not secure
The first myth we have to look at exists around mobile credentials. Mobile credentials allow cardholders to access secured doors and areas with their mobile devices. The fact that these devices communicate with an ACS via Bluetooth or Near Field Communication (NFC) leads to one of the main myths we encounter about the security of credentialed information. There is a persistent belief that Bluetooth is not secure. In particular, people seem to be concerned that using mobile credentials makes your organization more vulnerable to skimming attacks.
While focusing on the medium of communication is an important consideration when an organization deploys a mobile credentialing system, the concerns about Bluetooth miss the mark. Bluetooth and NFC are simply channels over which information is transmitted. Believing that Bluetooth is not secure would be the same as suggesting that the internet is not secure. In both cases, the security of your communication depends on the technology, protocols, and safeguards we all have in place.
So, instead of wondering about Bluetooth or NFC, users should be focused on the security of the devices themselves. Before deploying mobile credentials, ask your vendor (1) how the credential is generated, stored, and secured on the device, (2) how the device communicates with the reader, and (3) how the reader securely accesses the credential information.
Myth #2: All smartcards are equally secure
The question “how secure are my smartcards?” is a serious one. And the answer can depend on the generation of the cards themselves. For example, while older smartcards like MiFARE CLASSIC and HID iCLASS Classic offer better encryption than prox cards and magstripe credentials, they have been compromised. Using these older technologies can make your organization vulnerable.
As a result, when you deploy smartcard technology as part of your ACS, you should choose the latest generation, such as MiFARE DesFIRE EV1 or EV2 and HID iCLASS SEOS. In this way, you will be protecting your system as well as your buildings or facilities.
Some traditional readers and controllers can also pose a serious risk to your organization if they use the Weigard protocol, which offers no security. While you can upgrade to a more secure protocol like OSDP version 2, electronic locks are a very secure alternative worth considering.
It is also important to understand that not all smartcard readers are compatible with all smartcard types. When they are not compatible, the built-in security designed to keep your system safe will not match up and you will essentially forego security as your smartcard-reader will not read the credentials at all. Instead, it will simply read the non-secure portion—the Card Serial Number (CSN) —of the smartcard that is accessible to everyone. While some manufacturers suggest that this is an advantage because their readers can work with any smartcard, the truth is that they are not reading from the secure part of the card, which can put your system and premises at risk.
Myth #3: Electronic locks are more vulnerable
These days, there are still many who believe that electronic locks, especially wireless locks, are more vulnerable to cybercriminal activity as compared to traditional readers and controllers. The concern here is that electronic locks can allow cybercriminals to both access your network to get data and intercept commands from the gateway or nodes over the air that would allow them access to your buildings or facilities.
The reality is that using electronic locks can help protect facilities and networks through various security protocols, including encryption and authentication. Additionally, because many of these locks remain operational regardless of network status, they provide real-time door monitoring. This means that many electronic locks not only prevent unauthorized access but also keep operators informed about their status at all times, even if a network goes down.
When it comes to deploying electronic locks, it is important to remember that, like any device on your network, they must have built-in security features that will allow you to keep your information, people, and facilities safe.
Be prepared to unlock future benefits
Ultimately, the information in your IP-based ACS is at no greater risk than any other information being transmitted over the network. We just have to be smart about how we connect, transmit, and store our data. In the end, maintaining the status quo and refusing to move away from old technology is not a viable option. Outdated technology and old analog systems are more vulnerable to attacks. The reason it is so important to debunk myths around ACS and, at the same time, get people thinking about network security in the right way is that network-based systems can offer an ever-increasing number of benefits.
When we deploy new technology using industry best practices and purchase devices from trusted vendors, we put ourselves and our networks in the best possible position to take full advantage of all that our increasingly connected world has to offer.