We are often asked to explain the various technology choices for employee ID badges. There are many kinds of “auto-identification” technologies that have been integrated in ID cards over the last twenty or thirty years. The most common of these are barcodes and magnetic stripes, which serve the essential purpose of generating machine-readable code that can be linked to the cardholder. Smartcards and RFID provide similar capabilities, but with a number of advantages over the “classic” tools many businesses use.
What Are Smartcards and RFID?
The essential role of smartcards and RFID is to allow a digital device (generally known as a “reader”) to pick up a unique piece of information from the card, which creates a linkage between the cardholder and the service being requested.
A smartcard device with an embedded integrated circuit connects to a reader either via a remote radio frequency interface or direct physical contact. Smartcards have the ability to store large amounts of data, carry out their own functions, and interact with smart card readers.
RFID is another type of function and stands for Radio Frequency Identification, which is a type of wireless communication that incorporates electrostatic coupling to identify an object. RFID dates all the way back to the 1940s but increased in use in the 1970s. RFIDs are being used as alternatives to barcodes.
Barcodes are common practice in modern industry, but barcodes can be limited in their scope. For example, barcodes require a direct line of sight or closer proximity for scanning. RFID tags can scan items away from the direct line of sight and from a greater distance.
While both smartcards and RFID are fantastic alternatives to barcodes, both are slightly different. While RFID is present in smartcards, there can be some misconceptions about contactless smartcard technology and RFID. Contactless smartcards tend to operate at a shorter range, approximately less than 4 inches and are predominantly used to support security capabilities. RFID is predominantly used over long ranges, lending itself to use in industries such as manufacturing or for purposes such as inventory control.
When choosing the RFID technology, there are a number of guidelines and specifications, with the main standards organizations being the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the Electronics Product Code Global Incorporated (EPCglobal), and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).
Each radio frequency also has associated standards, for example, ISO 10536 for close coupling RFID cards or ISO 24710 for elementary tags with limited memory capability for identification and data capture, which can guide you toward the best solution for your needs.
What Can a Smartcard or RFID Do?
While these tools are predominately thought of in terms of technology, there is greater scope for what smartcards and RFID can do. Typical “services” requested might be “please open this door for me”, or “please log me on to this website”, or “please dispense me a cup of coffee”, etc. While these services might have been made available through cards with a magstripe or barcode, there are two main reasons why smartcards and RFID present a significant step forward:
First and foremost, security was at the root of developing these new technologies. Prior technologies were inherently open, which meant anyone could read and copy the digital codes. They were, therefore, conducive to fraud, whereby an imposter could easily copy the digital identity from your card and access the services as if he were you. There is a range of different smartcard and RFID technologies, with increasing levels of security, but all of them make it far more difficult for someone to copy your digital ID, these can include the following:
- Authenticated and authorized access. The device or smart card can process information, allowing it to provide authenticated access and protect personal information.
- Strong contactless security. Smartcard technology is difficult to copy and includes a variety of software and hardware capabilities to react to tampering.
- Mutual authentication. There are instances where a smart card can verify the individual is authentic and also identify that the card reader is authentic.
- Supporting information privacy. Smartcard technology can strengthen the system’s ability to protect privacy, which is a very simple solution that can improve a company’s information.
When we’re looking for technological solutions that make life easier for us. we have to consider how easy it is for an organization to use something, especially when time is money! Some traditional technologies required expensive, cumbersome equipment (think of the complex equipment required to scan your barcodes when checking out at the supermarket).
Others required somewhat inconvenient card manipulation, like swiping through a reader. (Who hasn’t had to re-swipe his or her card because it was turned the wrong way, or upside down?) With new technologies, cards can be read at a distance, often while they’re still in your pocket.
These two factors, security and convenience, are exactly what companies are looking for when they develop a staff ID card program.
How Else Can RFID and Smartcards Help Employees and Businesses?
There are a number of innovative solutions for secure authentication, and traditional keycards are still one of the best frontlines of security in professional circles. There are some fantastic reasons that RFID and smartcards continue to play a vital role for employees and businesses:
Easier for Employees to Use
The most important thing to remember is that smart cards or cards with RF technology have been in place for a long time. Businesses need to find ways to cut corners, and ensuring that employees can do their work easily and without issue at the front door can make a big difference.
Compare this to newer security methods, like Multi-Factor Authentication, and there is a greater learning curve an employee needs to go through. If an individual needs to learn how to use a biometric reader or has to remember more passwords or PIN numbers, this can cause more frustration. Smart cards and RFIDs are much easier to use.
An Established Infrastructure
From the perspective of security measures, authentication technology that is easy to use makes for a more efficient organization. Most businesses already have an access control infrastructure in place that is based on RFID.
Rather than making major upgrades to a business by completely altering the technology, it is far simpler to opt for something that has already been proven to be successful. Making upgrades to card readers require minimal downtime, resulting in greater productivity and much less stress.
Every organization is determined to save on its bottom line. Modern technology requires a high level of investment, and authentication always comes at a price. Comparing this to RFID technology, a small business looking to scale up can still purchase a system well within a reasonable budget.
With the costs of RFID cards covering a number of options for your business needs, you can still operate within a budget that suits you. An organization with a smaller employee base can maintain a comprehensive level of security without having to invest above and beyond.
Greater Advantages Over Contemporary Tools
While new MFA protocols are becoming more sophisticated, this requires more complexity for businesses and employees to grasp. For example, new protocols may require employees to download an app onto their phone and go through a number of hoops of authentication or use a biometric tech with a fingerprint or iris ID, which can seem too much of a leap into the future.
Companies that use smart cards and RFID badges may seem a primitive solution in comparison to MFA, but the reality is that most businesses can benefit from simple and effective RFID and smartcard solutions. A company needs to measure a number of simple metrics:
- Attendance checking.
- Signing in and signing out.
- Authentic ID.
When you consider the environment, when you use an RFID card or a smartcard you may see the difficulties in implementing smartphones by means of identification. This would include some of the following:
- Locations with limited mobile signal or internet access.
- Environments where phones are prohibited on-site or in specific areas.
- Jobs where mobile phones are considered a hindrance, for example, in customer-facing roles.
When it comes to privacy, security, and ease of use, these functions must be embedded at a business level. Contactless smartcard technology and RFID functions are there to help organizations implement a better level of security.
As more and more ID cards are being produced with an embedded chip, slowly replacing prior generations of technology, it is critical for organizations to progress with a greater understanding of how they can secure their premises. While many organizations look to upgrade their technology, there are a number of solutions any business can utilize to protect its assets and employees.
Smart cards and RFID cards are invaluable to making your company a far more solid entity. More and more of the cards we print at InstantCard are smartcards or contain an RFID transponder, so if you have any questions about how your ID card program might be enhanced with one of these modern technologies, don’t hesitate to contact us.