Brian Sims
Editor

Rethinking Access Control for Today’s Flexible Workplace

OVER THE years, approaches designed to support employee well-being have evolved. Delivering job satisfaction, mental health support and flexible and hybrid working are just some of the measures adopted, but what about ensuring people feel safe and protected? Workers feeling vulnerable poses a significant risk to employee well-being, as Michel Roig discovers.

While security has always been a priority, one of the most recent approaches to facilitating employee well-being – flexible and hybrid working (or ‘Working from Anywhere’) – might have created new risks.

Despite most pandemic restrictions having now been lifted, it appears that ‘Working from Anywhere’ is here to stay. Surveys of UK employees have revealed that the proportion of ‘Working from Anywhere’ employees almost doubled between February and May of this year.

It’s easy to see why. Offering ‘Working from Anywhere’ as part of the job remit is now a significant factor in attracting candidates and retaining employees. Signs are emerging that it’s also the key to enhanced productivity.

However, ‘Working from Anywhere’ means that employers have to secure digital estates wherever and whenever employees are working. This represents a significant challenge as companies have to respond to increased digital threats and apply enterprise security for domestic settings.

There are also challenges in physical access that are worrying workers. Even before the pandemic, findings from the Society of Human Resource Management revealed that roughly one-in-seven Americans, for example, don’t feel safe in the workplace.

In essence, the scale of the challenge requires companies to critique their own current security solutions and consider carefully whether the existing regime provides a smart and secure workplace that supports employee well-being.

Trust factor

One of the biggest factors that underpins workplace security is human behaviour. Security, both digital and physical, is everybody’s responsibility. This means that many organisations focus on security through training and the induction process for new starters, but it takes more than just a training session to support the human element behind security. Where once we could simply use our instincts to assist workplace security, since ‘Working from Anywhere’ went mainstream, there’s now a risk that these instincts have been somewhat eroded.

With ‘Working from Anywhere’, seeing new faces in the workplace will be commonplace. Previously, trust instincts might have kicked in and employees would have challenged unrecognised individuals. Today, there’s a risk that they will not notice or challenge them. Although this is less of a problem in smaller organisations, the larger the workforce, the bigger the risk. Remember that it takes only one malicious individual to exploit such a vulnerability.

As companies examine their security needs, a good starting point is to look at access control and authentication methods: are you introducing unnecessary risk by relying solely on traditional authentication approaches?

PIN pads and access cards might have previously been sufficient, but in today’s workplace ecosystem with the additional security challenges realised by ‘Working from Anywhere’, they might not be meeting all of the requirements.

Traditional credentials are highly vulnerable. Cards and keys can be lost or stolen, PINs and passwords may be hacked, seen by ‘shoulder surfers’, traded online or breached through brute force attacks. Even employees sharing credentials – itself a process that’s strongly discouraged – presents a significant risk to workplace security. While PINs and passwords can be changed, this is a burden for both employees and security managers alike.

Making the user the key

What’s needed is a physical access control solution that makes the user the key. What’s needed is a smart and convenient solution that’s highly resistant to compromise and responds to the challenges of ‘Working from Anywhere’. This is why biometrics for physical access makes sense, either on their own or as part of a multi-factor authentication approach.

Not only do biometrics enhance security, but they also help security to serve as a pillar for organisational efficiency, productivity and asset optimisation. Deploying biometrics also demonstrates a commitment to creating a smarter and more secure workplace that’s dedicated to protecting those employees within.

Using biometrics to secure workplaces is more of a reality than many people think. For organisations already reliant on access cards, biometric solutions from providers such as Sentry, Feitian, Cardlabs and Freevolt – all of which use Fingerprints’ technology – are available. All of these solutions work with existing access card infrastructure to increase biometrics’ commercial viability.

When navigating biometrics in security strategies, the on-device approach – whereby the biometric data is stored, matched and authenticated securely within the device/card – facilitates integration. This removes the cost and burden of creating, maintaining and protecting a centralised database of credentials and minimises the risk of biometric data being hacked.

Biometric access cards have the added benefit of enabling converged access control, whereby users have the same card for any authentication use case throughout the workplace. For logical access, biometrics can be viewed as the first step in ‘Zero Trust’ strategies, which themselves are now attracting more attention in light of critical digital security challenges.

Beyond cards, with the Internet of Things revolution increasing the number of connected devices and smart buildings, smart phone biometrics can be leveraged as part of a smarter and more integrated security strategy, in turn helping to create a truly ‘next generation’ smart workplace.

Future-proofing security

Security and access control challenges have changed significantly. As such, it’s vital that the available technology responds accordingly. This is precisely why readily available biometric technology is essential, enabling a rapid transition to more robust security that doesn’t sacrifice convenience.

Over the years, R&D has transformed biometric to render this technology a reliable, secure, effective, logical and physical access control solution: a stark contrast to the early days of easy spoofing and frustrated users.

The story doesn’t end there, though. Ongoing innovation will render biometrics increasingly sophisticated and open new use cases with the potential to transform access control for the workplaces and smart homes of tomorrow.

Michel Roig is President of Payment and Access at Fingerprints (www.fingerprints.com)

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