Access Control

30 Drawbacks of Key Card Systems

“I love key cards, why would I switch to anything else?”

Said no one ever… Key card technology was developed 40 years ago, and while it’s a hassle to manage key cards, they are still heavily used because there weren’t better options. However, over the past five years, we are seeing a complete shift away from key card entry systems toward mobile and face recognition based entry systems.

This article explains the many drawbacks of key card systems, which has resulted in the popularity toward future-proof solutions like face recognition and mobile access control.

Do We Really Like Key Cards?

More and more offices and buildings are moving toward touchless access control systems, especially to create safer, cleaner environments after COVID-19.

Even prior to the pandemic, key cards were an operational burden for facilities and workplace teams who had to manage issuing and replacing badges. Bottom line: it’s an antiquated process that is a hassle for the admin and the user.

  • Carrying badges on a lanyard is cumbersome and not a natural look.
  • According to the New York Times, “Everybody hates the key card.”
  • People struggle to find their key cards in their bags every time they are at the door.
  • When key cards are forgotten, users are frustrated when they are locked out.

Security Risks and Drawbacks

  • Key cards can be easily stolen and cloned. Key card cloners on Amazon cost only $27.
  • These systems only run inside the building, so you cannot manage them if you are away from the office.
  • Key card systems do not provide the ability to manage/remove access from anywhere. In other words, they cannot operate remotely.
  • Due to these constraints, there can be delays in removing access for security breaches and troublesome employees.
  • According to security experts, most companies still have large number of key cards in circulation that belong to past employees and visitors, which opens up a huge security risk.
  • Your office and security team is working from home, remotely post COVID-19. These systems require them to be present in the office, exposing them to additional risks. It also increases the liability on the company.
  • Most key card systems run on insecure network communication, using HTTP or encrypted connections. This can be a weak spot for hackers to tap into your company network. Think it can’t happen to you? Most recently, Garmin had a major hack into their systems and had to pay out $10M in bounty.
  • Legacy systems require complex network changes to the firewall, opening up more weak spots and causing a lot of stress to IT teams.

Key Card Cloners and Copiers

Cloning a key card is without a doubt a risk to security, but the intent behind copying any access device is an act of malicious intent. This is a serious security threat to any building’s occupants and data.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to clone any RFID or key card with a cheap device that can be purchased on Amazon.

Poor Admin Management Experience

  • Access systems run on legacy Windows machine.
  • Key card systems run legacy software that still looks like it was built in the ’90s.
  • Another drawback is that management teams need extensive training programs to learn how to use these complex systems.
  • Most companies need to hire employees with specialized technical skills to run and operate these systems.
  • It takes up a lot of time and effort to run a key card creation workflow: Buying new cards every few weeks, setting up printer stations for badge photos, copying card numbers, printing card numbers, etc.

Issues with Scalability

  • You can’t manage multiple buildings on legacy systems because they only operate inside a given network connection in a building.
  • Key card systems cannot handle more than a small number of doors since they need to be on the same network to operate correctly.
  • You cannot remotely revoke access to terminated employees, which causes delays and leaks in access.
  • You cannot pre-authorize or give out temporary access via a text message or link, unlike cloud-based access control systems.

Operation and Management Cost

  • According to Fivestars, with their legacy access control system, they had to create 2-3 key cards “every day” running a 200 person office.
  • You need to keep buying key cards every few weeks because people lose them all the time.
  • Access control systems require scheduled maintenance that require a full day of updates every 6 months. Access control systems are completely down during those times.
  • Companies typically charge $150 – $250 / hr to perform these types of updates.
  • Proprietary key card formats from companies like HID require purchasing special expensive versions that are only supported by those companies.
  • There is a ton of training cost involved in teaching your staff how to operate these legacy systems.
  • Admins spend anywhere from 4 – 12 hours a week just issuing key cards to employees and visitors.
  • Because key cards are easy to clone, you need to have someone check badge photos at every entrance if you want high security.

COVID-19 Considerations for Access Control

Every business is trying to minimize high-touch surfaces in order to protect their employees and visitors. Swiftlane has been busy helping companies rethink their access control post-COVID-19 by offering touchless solutions and health screening tools. It’s our priority to help enable a privacy first touchless future, which means the future of access control needs to be touchless as well.

Key Card Alternatives

Contact a member of the Swiftlane team to explore alternatives to key card systems, or to learn more about cloud-based access control solutions.

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