The Case for Smartphone Credentials

Learn how digital keys are opening doors



Need to unlock a door? There’s an app for that. Your smartphone can now store a digital credential that replaces physical keys, access cards, and ID badges. Launch the app and a smart reader will verify your identity data.

Call Up These Benefits
Mobile credentials promise several advantages over other access control choices:

  • Convenience – Whether you use mechanical keys, badges, or access cards, each option requires workers or students to go into an office and receive their credential in person. Not so with smartphones – users don’t have to be physically present or even in the building.

    All an administrator needs is the user’s phone number and SIM ID, says Boriskin, which can be obtained during HR orientation or student registration.

    Office personnel then use a web-based program to issue the credential at any time and from any place.

  • Costs – Mobile credentials significantly reduce the costs associated with metal keys or cards – no more printers, blank cards, rekeying, or ink cartridges. This can be a sizable savings for hotels or colleges that must replace keys frequently, says Earles.

    A digital credential also won’t end up in the landfill at the end of its life, he adds, providing a more sustainable option with fewer disposal costs.

  • Security – Because phones have become so entwined with daily life, people tend to notice within mere minutes if their phone is no longer in reach, Boriskin notes. But with a physical ID card that sits in a purse or back pocket all day without a glance, it could take hours for someone to realize it’s lost.

    This time gap creates an opening for someone to improperly access your building. Should a smartphone get stolen or lost, however, the credential can be remotely revoked to prevent a security breach. The same process can be used to transfer the credential to a new phone when a user upgrades, Boriskin adds.

  • Identity Protection – Until the app is launched, a mobile credential isn’t accessible – the digital badge won’t display as the user’s smartphone background, for example.

    “With smartphones, any identifying information is usually stored behind a password screen,” Earles explains. “If a physical ID card gets lost, however, anyone can pick it up and instantly learn what a person looks like and where he or she works or goes to school.”

    If you don’t trust mobile users to have password protection enabled on their phones, you can also require a password to open the app itself as an additional security measure. However, this step may be perceived as a drawback by users if they feel it causes too much of a delay.

  • Temporary Access – Mobile credentials can be used for visitor passes, hotel key cards, or temporary access privileges for outside contractors.

    As long as guests have an NFC-enabled smartphone, administrators can issue a digital key prior to their arrival and revoke it just as easily.

  • Payment Options – As with smart cards, digital ID badges can be tied into any closed-loop payment system, Earles says, a functionality often seen on college campuses and in healthcare.

    “This is a great solution if you want to combine access control with multiple functions, such as cafeteria payments, vending machine purchases, or library privileges,” Earles says.

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