Building a tap based access control platform

29 December, 2016
Building a tap based access control platform

Tim Phipps is Vice President Product Marketing and Identity Assurance with HID Global.

With the move to a mobile and cloud first world, corporate data has become increasingly difficult to protect. Employee expectations have changed – they want to be able to access corporate cloud applications, data and services anywhere, at any time, using the device of their choice. This can potentially make networks significantly more vulnerable to security breaches.

Reliance on passwords alone is not enough. When hackers steal an employee’s user name and password, they can often move through the network undetected and upload malware programmes to other systems. Now, with the advent of a security model called tap authentication, it is possible to control access to data with a much more convenient process, using the same identification card that controls access to a company’s facilities.

With tap authentication, users simply tap their smart cards to laptops, tablets, phones and other NFC-enabled devices for easy and convenient access to network resources, cloud applications and web-based services. This quick tap of the card to a device is much easier and secure than passwords. It is faster and more seamless and convenient than dedicated hardware one-time passwords or other physical devices. Perhaps most important for users, it offers the convenience of being able to access data and cloud-based applications with the same card that opens doors.

Today’s threats will not diminish anytime soon. Nor will the cost of a data breach. IBM recently announced in its Security Services Cyber Security Intelligence Index Report that phishing, malware and other cyber threats are now costing organisations up to 19% in revenue and 21% in lost productivity, amongst other financial hits. Protecting access to corporate data is becoming more crucial.

One of the biggest problems is an over-reliance on passwords. Identifying and validating workforce identities used to be relatively easy and relied on the combination of a username and a password that users typed in to a PC to authenticate themselves to the machine and to the network. Workforce computer users had one password, and that password was used in one place only: at a stationary workstation in the office or at home. Once the user logged in, they had access to every application they needed to do their job.

Today, however the enterprise landscape is rapidly changing. We now live in a mobile-first, cloud-first world where there is no longer a single device that is used to access corporate data and services. On top of this, corporate security policies have changed, requiring users to authenticate themselves more often. For example, employees at the National Institute of Standards and Technology log-in on average 23 times a day, leading to password fatigue.

Plus, users now expect instant access to corporate data and services from anywhere at any time from their mobile device. This means that employees using traditional but weak username and password-based authentication are inadvertently opening up their organisation to a number of sophisticated cyber threats.

Tap authentication enables authentication to multiple apps and services on multiple endpoint devices without having to recall and re-type additional codes and passwords. The process requires only three simple steps. First, users open a browser on their NFC-enabled device and then type the application URL they wish to access. Next, they enter their corporate username and password. Finally, they tap their access control card to the back of their NFC-enabled mobile device or tablet to provide the second authentication factor. The card can be read without needing to be physically inserted into a reader device.


Key takeaways

  • Adding tap authentication is difficult with legacy physical access control system based on static hard-to-upgrade technologies
  • Today’s tap authentication solutions are cloud-based and do not require any on-premises hardware to install or service contracts to maintain
  • User authentication is one of five security layers that every organisation should consider

Besides improving convenience, the tap authentication model takes advantage of the existing access control system to ensure a seamless user experience that can extend throughout the physical and IT access control infrastructure. The result is a single, more efficient and economical identity and access management system.

By centralising identity and access management in this way, organisations can consolidate tasks and reduce ongoing operational costs, and also have the ability to flexibly scale and adapt capabilities while realising growing value for the organisation.

Adding tap authentication, like any other new access control capability, is difficult with a legacy physical access control system based on static, hard-to-upgrade technologies. This is why so many organisations are moving to new physical access control systems that are based on dynamic technologies, and therefore adaptable to changing needs and best practices as security threats evolve.

Today’s physical access control systems offer improved security of contactless high frequency or microprocessor-based smart card technology. The most effective of these smart card technologies uses mutual authentication and cryptographic protection mechanisms with secret keys, and a secure messaging protocol that is delivered on a trust-based communication platform within a secure ecosystem of interoperable products.

With a physical access control systems foundation, organisations can also support different applications on the same smart card – from access control for the parking lot, main door, individual offices, to the new capability of tapping in and out of computer applications.

Today’s tap authentication solutions are cloud-based and do not require any on-premises hardware to install or service contracts to maintain. IT deployment is a simple process of installing authentication system software and device apps, synchronising users with the authentication cloud service, and notifying them when they can begin using the system. Organisations also have the option of deploying conventional card readers in areas where endpoints do not have built-in NFC readers.

There are other considerations for an effective deployment. User authentication is one of five security layers that every organisation should consider. The other layers include authenticating the device, protecting the browser, protecting the application, and finally authenticating the transaction with pattern-based intelligence for sensitive transactions.

Implementing these layers requires an integrated, versatile authentication platform with real-time threat detection capabilities. This platform, combined with an anti-virus solution, provides the highest possible security against today’s threats.

Organisations can also consider storing biometrics on the smart card. With biometrics, users can reliably authenticate themselves with the simple touch of a finger, enabling them to log into multiple applications while providing an irrefutable audit trail.

Organisations are moving toward converged solutions that can be used to secure access to everything from doors to computers, data, applications, and cloud-based services. Tap authentication provides a key ingredient for achieving this objective, while at the same time delivering the convenience and simplicity of the tap experience. Users have already traded in mechanical keys for smart cards that open doors and gates.

Now, this same card can also replace dedicated one-time password solutions, within an access control system ecosystem that will continue to flexibly scale and adapt while delivering value to the organisation. The system investments that are made today can be preserved over time as organisations grow, evolve, and continually improve their security capabilities to combat changing threats to facilities, information security, and information privacy.


Organisations need to consider integrated access control platforms to jointly secure IT applications and physical access, recommends Tim Phipps from HID Global


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