how to access control systems work

How to Access Control Systems Work: The Basics and Beyond

Access control systems are security systems used to restrict access to specific areas in a building. It is a way to manage who gains entrance to a particular side of the door or a building at specific times. In this article, we will discuss the basics of an access control system and how it works. We will also elaborate on its importance for businesses and the different types of access control credentials and components.

What is an access control system, and how does it work?

An access control system is a security system that restricts entry to a specific area within a building or property. The system determines whether the user is authorized to access the area based on their access privileges. In brief, the access control system works by receiving the user’s credential, verifying it, and unlocking the entry point if authorized for access. This system can also help prevent unauthorized access.

Types of access control

Access control systems offer different types, such as mandatory access control and discretionary access control. Mandatory access control is a stringent system with designated access privileges assigned by a system administrator. In contrast, discretionary access control grants users more liberty to restrict access.

Mandatory access control

Mandatory access control is a type of access control that provides a mandatory set of rules assigned by the system administrator. This system is rigid and forced and is often used in government or military facilities.

Discretionary access control

Discretionary access control gives users greater freedom to control access and grant permissions to specific areas.

How important is an access control system for businesses?

Businesses require a robust and secure access control system. It is necessary to prevent unauthorized access and protect the company’s assets, employees, and sensitive information. Role-based access control is a popular system used in businesses, which revolves around specific roles within the company that determine access privileges.

Role-based access control

Role-based access control is a system used to restrict access based on a user’s role within a company. An administrative assistant may have limited access to company areas and information, while a financial controller may have access to confidential and restricted areas.


Credential refers to the user’s identity verification method, such as a card key or biometric identification. The credential must be valid, accurate, and generated by the system.


The controller is the core of the system, managing the access control system. It sends and receives signals from the door controllers, card readers, and the access control panel.

What are the components of an access control system?

The components of an access control system include the control panel or controller, card reader, and door lock. The three components work together to manage entry into a specific area.

Control panel or controller

The control panel, or controller, manages the entire access control system. From managing credentials to determining access privileges, the control panel is the hub of the system.

Card reader

A card reader is used to read the user’s credential, such as a card key, RFID, or biometric data. The reader sends the received data to the controller for verification.

Door lock

The door lock unlocks the door once the controller has determined that the user is authorized to access the area.

What are the different types of access control credentials?

Access control credentials include biometric data, fingerprints, and identification numbers.


Biometric credentials include facial recognition, iris scans, voice recognition, and fingerprint scans. This type of credential provides higher security as it is less likely to be duplicated or stolen.


Fingerprint credentials are unique to each person and are considered a secure form of identification. The user’s fingerprint is scanned and verified with the system.

Identification number

An ID number is a unique identifier that is assigned to the user and is stored in the system. The user enters the ID number at the reader, which sends it to the controller for verification before access is granted.

How to program an access control system?

To program an access control system, the following steps must be taken:


The user’s access privileges must be authorized and assigned by the system administrator. Without authorization, the user will not be able to gain access to the area.


The user’s credential must be encrypted to protect sensitive information from hacking attempts or third-party access.


The controller unlocks the door if the user’s credentials are valid, and they have authorized access privileges.

What are the benefits of an access control system?

An access control system has several benefits, including:

Enhanced security

Access control systems offer enhanced security by preventing unauthorized access to a particular area. It also helps maintain a record of who has accessed certain areas at specific times.

Control entry

Access control systems give businesses full control over authorized personnel’s access, ensuring that only approved individuals can enter specific areas.

Saves time and costs

An access control system saves both time and costs as it eliminates the need for security personnel to monitor and restrict access manually. This results in reduced errors, enhanced efficiency, and lower costs in the long run.

Q: What is Access Control, and how does it work?

A: Access Control Systems allow the user to grant or deny access permissions to specific doors or areas. It is usually accomplished by using a control panel or a controller device coupled with a card reader or a biometric system. Once the user is authorized, the door lock will release, enabling them to control entry into the building or a specific area within it.

Q: What is a control panel, and how does it relate to Access Control?

A: A control panel, or controller, is the device that receives power from the access control panel and operates the electrical door lock. It contains all the necessary information to manage the access control system, such as the access settings, installed software, and pre-defined access permissions.

Q: What is a card reader, and how does it relate to Access Control?

A: A card reader is a device provided to gain access to the door at a particular time. It reads the information encoded into the card and verifies if it matches the information programmed into the access control system. If the information matches, the door lock will disengage, allowing the user entry to a specific area.

Q: What is Role-based Access Control, and why is it important for Access Control Systems?

A: Role-Based Access Control, or RBAC, is a type of access control logic commonly used in access control systems. It’s essential because it grants access to individuals based on their job responsibilities and title, prioritizing them based on their organizational requirements.

Q: What is the difference between Mandatory Access Control and Discretionary Access Control?

A: Mandatory Access Control enables the system to enforce security policies, stating that only authorized personnel can access specified data types. With Discretionary Access Control, users have full control over granting access permissions for their resources, deciding who can or cannot access them.

Q: Can an Access Control System offer more than just controlling entry and exit of a building?

A: Yes, access control systems can also offer additional functionality, such as multi-level security checks, monitoring of staff, attendance tracking, and more. The system can be programmed to suit a range of access permissions and settings, depending on the specific requirements of the building or facility.

Q: Is Access Control essential for all organizations?

A: Access Control is vital for all organizations, particularly those with valuable, proprietary information and assets to protect. Access Control Systems safeguard these resources by only granting access to authorized personnel with the correct level of clearance.

Q: What are Access Settings, and can they be modified?

A: Access Settings refer to the different levels of access that can be programmed into the access control system. These can be modified at any time, allowing users to adjust access permissions and settings as per their requirement. The system maintains a record of all changes made to the settings so that they can be audited and reviewed later if necessary.

Q: Does an Access Control System only control entry, or does it also regulate exits?

A: While some systems only control entry, others regulate both entry and exit from a facility or a specific area within it. Systems with exit controls function similarly to entry controls, with authorized personnel using the same credential to exit as they used to enter the area.

Q: How does the access control system receive power?

A: The access control system receives power from the access control panel, which is wired into the electrical mains of the building. The control panel then supplies power to the controller and other devices, such as the card reader, to enable the system’s operation.

Q: Do I need a phone line or an internet connection to use an access control system?

A: No, you do not need a phone line or an internet connection to use an access control system. However, if you have a network-enabled access control system, you can operate it over an IP network, allowing for remote management and access management capabilities.