How Bluetooth better connects control and convenience

Although proximity cards still dominate the access control landscape, a shift is underway with the move towards smartphone-based identification via Bluetooth-enabled readers. Discover the benefits that include increased convenience and secure encryption.

Ongoing security concerns along with advancements in wireless and other technologies used in security systems are helping to fuel the growth of the access control market.

That’s what research firm MarketsandMarkets cited in its latest report on the access control market where analysts predict the market will grow from $8.6 billion in 2021 to over $13 billion in 2021. here 2026. This is good news for integrators, resellers and suppliers of access control readers.

While existing proximity ID-based readers are proven workhorses for access control, what integrators and their customers are learning is that 125 kilohertz (kHz) proximity ID solutions ) have experienced documented security vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, hackers have found ways to easily clone proximity credentials.

To address this weakness, the industry has started to move to 13.56 megahertz (MHz) smart credentials and now many are moving to using smartphones where access control credentials can be replaced by mobile technologies using higher encrypted credentials tied to the smartphone.

This article describes the multiple benefits that integrators can offer their customers when switching to Bluetooth-based mobile access control solutions. It will show how security can be increased with encrypted Bluetooth credentials, removing cloning and hacking issues with proximity credentials.

A Growing Trend in Access Control

The access control trend of adopting smartphones follows their evolving use. According to Pew Research, 85% of Americans now own a smartphone, and an even higher percentage (95%) is owned by people between the ages of 18 and 49.

Installers are seeing growing customer demand to deploy the most secure access control technology and solutions possible. An estimated 20% of all organizations adopted the use of mobile credentials for access control last year.

One good reason is that smartphones have inherent credential protection and built-in convenience factors such as biometrics or personal identification numbers that make them more attractive and secure for access.

Advantages of the Bluetooth-based solution

The main reason why Bluetooth is so attractive for access control is that it can be used with a person’s smartphone, which is already used for many daily tasks. Familiar and widely applied, Bluetooth technology is recognized by anyone who has set up a smartphone or laptop. Another benefit is that using smartphones eliminates the hassle of memorizing keys or a proxy card.

The most important security benefit realized with Bluetooth and 13.56 MHz credentials is that they are encrypted, making them much harder for hackers to clone. Another advantage is that Bluetooth offers a variable reading range option that extends from inches to over 30 feet. Installers can select the reading range that best suits the application, whether securing a single room or the entrance to an entire facility or parking lot.

The type of technology used in mobile access control applications is Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE). This highly efficient and capable technology resides in virtually every smartphone and provides sufficient bandwidth for an encrypted security ID and future access services.

A typical BLE-based The access control system is configured via a Bluetooth-enabled reader wired to the access control panel and the ID card holder’s smartphone. Installation is very simple via the phone’s cellular data network or a secure Wi-Fi connection. An internet connection is only required during initial setup and downloading BLE credentials, it is not required for accessing a user’s door with their mobile credentials.

Highly secure BLE credentials are easy to purchase, deploy, and use because no new software or additional programming is required. Additionally, many Bluetooth-based readers, such as Nortek Control’s Linear brand, are panel independent, so they can be used on any existing Wiegand-enabled access control panel.

Key Features To Look For

With many Bluetooth readers to choose from, what are the top features to look for that best fit current and future customer needs? An important differentiator provides an easier way to distribute credentials with features that allow users to register only once, removing the need for portal accounts or other activation features.

By removing these additional information disclosures, the privacy issues that have slowed acceptance of mobile access systems are eliminated.

It is also beneficial to look for BLE readers that have multiple options to customize access control in a secure way. For example, does the associated application use credentials stored on the phone or mobile device and not on a separate server? And, does the app further enhance Bluetooth credential security with the phone’s built-in fingerprint scanner/face unlock?

An example of a Bluetooth reader, this linear model includes a digital range adjustment board that allows installers to switch between four modes to allow users to unlock a 2-inch door from up to 30 feet away.

These features maximize security when mobile credentials are used. Additionally, users enjoy the benefits of 128-bit AES encryption with 13.56 MHz readers as opposed to legacy proximity cards (125 kHz) which transmit card data in plain text, which is not protected by encryption. .

Offering a flexible upgrade option for buildings and offices that already have a proximity or smart card system, organizations should look for Bluetooth readers that support both cards and fobs BLE and traditional. This allows site administrators to migrate users to more secure Bluetooth credentials at a time that best suits their needs.

These readers are also well suited for new build installations, allowing administrators to remove legacy proximity credentials and adopt BLE/smart credentials directly.

Enhanced security via mobile apps

Because 13.56 MHz information is extremely difficult to clone, and by combining BLE reader solutions with advanced mobile apps now available, users gain the added convenience of contactless entry and the flexibility of have physical and mobile credentials. These new mobile apps are also capable of securely storing and delivering mobile credentials to personal devices.

Additionally, some applications provide the ability to customize options to specific end-user needs and store multiple credentials with a color-coded labeling system to distinguish credentials. Security and credential protection are also enhanced with a smartphone’s built-in biometric sensors.

Dealers will appreciate the simplified deployment process as there is no portal login or onboarding process required so a user’s information remains secure and private. Additionally, many new applications only require a one-time registration of a user’s mobile phone number.

Convenience and safety

Bluetooth readers offer the ability to use both physical and mobile credentials, giving organizations new options and conveniences of use they didn’t have before. As a standardized wireless technology solution, Bluetooth readers are gaining popularity because they do not require additional network equipment.

Most importantly, the added security offered by BLE and 13.56 MHz readers and associated credentials enables dealers to meet growing customer demands for the most secure access control solutions.


Mark Prowten is Director of Product Management for Nortek Control’s Linear brand.

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