Canadian Security Magazine

Protecting people and property on university campuses

By Brett St. Pierre   

Features Opinion

On the majority of today’s university campuses, magstripe cards are used to secure facilities, but feature little or no fraud protection. Low-frequency (125 kHz) card systems, often known as proximity (or prox) cards, can also be cloned. The best way to protect students, faculty and staff is with high-frequency contactless smart card technology that uses mutual authentication and cryptographic protection mechanisms with secret keys, and a secure messaging protocol delivered on a trust-based platform.

The expense of migrating to smart cards is outweighed by cost savings from convenience, maintenance and management improvements, and the value of a single card for applications including opening doors, accessing computers, time-and-attendance, secure-print-management, and paying for meals, transit fare and cashless vending purchases. Today’s smart cards also feature multi-layered security, full privacy support and robust tamper defences, and may be used on some smartphones so individuals can carry all credentials on a device they rarely lose or forget.

There are a number of best practices for improving a university’s migration success, including using access control platforms based on open standards to improve flexibility and interoperability while making it easy to expand or add new technology and capabilities in the future without forfeiting earlier investments in their access control infrastructure. Current student ID and issue code numbering systems can be retained, and the use of multi-technology cards and readers limits workflow disruption. Card services teams report that smart card and magstripe printing and workflow processes are quite similar.

Trustworthy authentication during the card issuance process requires printers, card materials and software that incorporate visual and logical anti-tamper elements. Visual elements can include higher-resolution images and holographic card over-laminates, as well as permanent laser-engraved personalization attributes that are extremely difficult to forge or alter. Print speed is also important, to keep card lines moving.

The right issuance solution can make a big difference when it comes to staying ahead of, or even eliminating, long card issuance lines at the beginning of the year. To meet these needs, today’s High Definition Printing (HDP) units offer high throughput plus superior reliability and durability, a modular design, and crisper, higher-definition images than alternatives. For even faster issuance, inline personalization solutions combine multiple processes into one automated step. If cards are pre-printed with static information (i.e., school seal, logo and mission statement), all remaining items can be printed on issuance day using faster, partial-ribbon printing.


Visitors must also be considered, and protecting residence halls is particularly important. This can be challenging in the open environment of most college campuses. Security administrators should consider visitor management solutions that integrate with their access control system. This gives universities a number of capabilities for tracking students visiting another student’s residence hall, and also for tracking and badging all non-student visitors. Lobby attendants can issue guest badges through the visitor management system, rather than having to interface with the access control system.

Universities must keep campuses safe. Some high-frequency contactless smart cards eliminate the fraud problem while improving security, speeding registration, and delivering greater value and convenience for cardholders and administrators. Using an open and adaptable platform will lay a solid foundation for adding new technologies and capabilities when they are needed, with the confidence that earlier infrastructure investments can be preserved.

Brett St Pierre is the Director of Business Development, Education Solutions, HID Global.

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