According to a recent post by Security Magazine, 88% of businesses in the U.S. now experience more physical security threats compared to 2021. With security threats going through the roof, many organizations have started implementing electronic access control systems to safeguard their assets and infrastructure.
While enterprises assume that these systems are the ultimate security barrier, safety greatly depends on the type of cards used- such as smart or proximity cards.
These technologies certainly help improve safety to a great extent, but choosing the right type is critical for fail-proof security.
In this article, we have compared smart and proximity cards in detail. Whether you are planning to install an access control system in your organization or want to upgrade the card technology, this post will help you make an informed decision.
Understanding Smart Cards
Smart cards offer enhanced security through advanced encryption and authentication mechanisms, making them more resistant to unauthorized access and fraud compared to traditional magnetic stripe cards.
These RFID-enabled (radio-frequency identification) devices contain an embedded microprocessor or memory chip. The cards are used to securely store and process data, making them a reliable solution for access control, data storage, and other purposes.
What makes smart cards ultra-safe is the ability to integrate biometric authentication and passwords. For highly-secure areas, enterprise owners can mandate two-factor authentication to restrict unauthorized access by employees or individuals.
How Do Smart Cards Work?
Smart cards comprise three major components: an RFID reader, an antenna, and a tag. The data is stored on the microchip, which is then attached to an antenna. Regardless of the type of smart card, the internal chip will transmit necessary information to the reader device when it is scanned or is within the stipulated range.
For example, when an employee or authorized individual presents a smart card to a multi-technology reader, the device communicates with the microprocessor on the card, validating the user’s credentials and granting access to specific areas.
If the organization has integrated the card with biometrics or other authentication methods, the card user must provide the necessary details to get access.
Understanding Proximity Cards
Also known as contactless cards, these are similar to intelligent ID cards but operate without the need for direct physical contact with a card reader (which could be a major drawback from the security POV).
These cards have built-in near-field communication (NFC) or radio frequency (RF) to transmit data wirelessly. When an authorized user brings a proximity card close to a card reader or scanner, the reader’s electromagnetic field powers the card and reads its information, giving access.
Commonly used as access control cards and employee badges, prox cards make it easier to gain entry to secure areas without passcodes, security tokens, or biometrics.
How Do Prox Cards Work?
As the name implies, a standard proximity card, when brought in close proximity to the reader. Similar to smart cards, these devices have an embedded antenna that exchanges information with the access control system.
The main use of these cards is to control who can or cannot get access to certain areas. Because of a lack of microprocessor chips, the prox cards can store a limited amount of information.
Smart Cards vs. Proximity Cards: How Are They Different?
Some people confuse smart cards with prox cards because both use radio waves as a part of their systems. However, this does not mean they can be used interchangeably, and there are evident differences between the two access control card technologies.
Here is a breakdown of the differences:
When it comes to security, smart cards have a strong reputation as compared to prox cards. The presence of microcontroller chips in smart cards provides enhanced security features.
The chip can execute complex cryptographic operations, making the cards resistant to various attacks like unauthorized access, data manipulation, and cloning. Proximity cards can now easily be compromised by employees having their ID badge cloned using cloning tools or paying for a copy of their keycard. Cloning an access control proximity card is extremely easy for users and can have it reproduced at a local hardware store or using an online tool. They may also unintentionally pose a risk when out in public spaces being exposed to bad actors in close contact with their ID card.
Additionally, some intelligent card options, like a hybrid smart card, often support multi-factor authentication, making them suitable for applications where high security is paramount, such as access to sensitive facilities like server rooms or government systems. Facial recognition, PIN number keypads or biometric ID cards requiring fingerprint authentication are all added authorization features that add greater security to ID badges.
On the other hand, prox cards lack the robust security capabilities of contactless smart cards. The absence of memory chips makes them more susceptible to certain threats like replay attacks or unauthorized card cloning, which can be a major setback for an organization’s security.
(Watch this video to know how proximity cards can be cloned within seconds)
The smart card technology conforms to international standards like ISO/IEC 7816, which means a higher degree of interoperability. Equipped with a dedicated microprocessor and standardized communication protocols, these cards work with a wide range of card readers and access control systems.
You can also easily integrate smart cards into complex environments, such as an enterprise-level smart card system or multi-application platforms.
While proximity cards are also RFID compatible, there exists a lack of interoperability, which can limit their adaptability in certain situations.
These cards often operate on specific frequency bands, such as 125 kHz or 13.56 MHz, and proprietary communication protocols implemented by different manufacturers.
As a result, you may experience compatibility issues with these cards if your company decides to change its card reader vendor or if a system requires multiple cards (e.g., for different departments or functions).
One of the biggest advantages of using smart cards is greater memory capacity. For example, these cards let the user store data, such as biometric information and personal credentials.
The ample storage makes smart cards versatile and suitable for various applications that demand extensive data storage and processing capabilities. Furthermore, these cards come with rewritable memory, and you can update the stored information easily using the access control systems.
In contrast, proximity cards have limited memory capacity and are best suited for simpler use cases where only basic identification information needs to be stored. The non-rewritable memory restricts the versatility of these cards.
For example, you cannot rewrite the information, such as employee IDs or facility codes stored on the card. Your organization will need to issue a new card with updated details, which contributes to resource wastage.
Owing to their advanced security features and extensive memory capacity, these cards find applications in a wide range of industries. They are commonly used in government sectors, banking, healthcare, and corporate enterprises for secure access control, employee identification, financial transactions, and more.
Proximity cards are popular in scenarios where a higher level of security is not required. Some common applications include employee identification for time and attendance and building access systems in less sensitive environments.
💡 An Important Note
There is a drastic shift from proximity cards to contactless and contact smart cards as businesses are realizing their added security benefits and the vulnerability proximity cards have posed due to how accessible card cloning has become. Also, factors such as rewritable memory and interoperability make smart cards a better choice. Thus, having RFID smart cards is essential even to protect less sensitive areas.
Given their sophisticated design and the inclusion of a secure chip, the initial cost of smart cards tends to be slightly higher as compared to proximity access cards. However, the difference in cost is minimal at only a few cents per card and using these cards prove to be more affordable in the long run, especially if an organization experiences a security breach using proximity cards.
The added security features, and versatile application, make smart cards a perfect solution to modern security needs. Unlike proximity cards, you do not need to issue multiple cards to the same person, as one card can be used for several purposes due to its better memory capacity.
Though the difference is not considerable, the upfront cost of proximity cards is less. The reason is the absence of the latest security features, less memory, and the inability to be integrated with more advanced or secure systems in the future. Additionally, proximity cards are less durable than smart cards, so they can cost an organization more eventually.
If your organization wants to bolster its access control and identification systems while ensuring top-notch security, Elliott Data Systems is here to help. We offer cutting-edge smart access card solutions to businesses looking for an extra layer of security.
We are a leading digital security company with offices in St. Louis, MO and Memphis, TN that prioritizes your satisfaction and can go above and beyond to protect your premises from threats. Call us at 1-888-345-8511 for information about smart cards and access control systems.
Which Type of Access Card is Better for Your Organization?
Choosing between smart and proximity cards depends on several factors that vary from company to company. With the following things in mind, it will be easier to select the right type of card technology for peace of mind knowing that your premise is always secure.
- Security Requirements
Nearly every organization deals with sensitive information or valuable assets and requires a high level of security to protect that data, making smart cards the better choice. Their advanced design allows for advanced encryption, strong authentication mechanisms, and resistance to cloning or tampering.
Smart cards are ideal for government agencies, financial institutions, healthcare facilities, educational institutions, and organizations handling confidential data.
Companies that foresee expansion or need additional security features in the future will find smart cards more scalable. The versatility of these cards allows for easy integration with multiple systems, supporting various applications on a single device. Scalability can lead to long-term cost savings and simplified management as your organization grows.
- Convenience and User Experience
Having an access control system is not just about security, it also impacts the user’s experience. Businesses that opt for contactless RFID smart cards can make it convenient for their users to access restricted areas.
Smart cards’ multi-application capabilities can also reduce the number of cards an individual must carry, further enhancing convenience.
- Integration with Existing Systems
If you already have an access control system in place, you know proximity cards have several compatibility limitations. For example, integrating new prox cards of a different frequency than the access control system can pose several problems.
On the other hand, smart cards are easy to integrate with any security system due to their ability to support standardized communication protocols and compatibility with various smart card reader technologies.
- Regulatory Compliance
In certain industries or government sectors, compliance with specific security standards and regulations is mandatory. Smart cards, with their advanced security features and encryption capabilities, are more likely to meet stringent regulatory requirements.
While proximity cards provide adequate security for various applications, they might not satisfy certain high-security standards or regulatory frameworks.
- Learning Curve
Unlike other card technologies, there is little to no learning curve with prox cards. All a user has to do is hold the card close to the physical contact points of the reader/scanner device, and they will get access.
Contactless smart cards are just as easy to use however, may require your organization to educate users about using the cards effectively when incorporating other functionality such as two-factor authentication. However, both cards are almost similar in ease of use, which makes intelligent cards a great option, even for people who are not so tech-savvy.
There is no major difference when it comes to maintaining smart and proximity cards. Since smart cards have a built-in chip, they might require a little more upkeep compared to the prox cards. However, high-quality printed smart cards can easily last around 5-10 years.
Want to Make Your Organization More Secure? Let Elliott Data Systems Fulfill Your Smart Card Requirements
If you are upgrading your organization’s access control system or need a new security system installed, trust Elliott Data Systems.
Our security specialists are adept at gauging your business’s needs to determine the best course of action regarding access control cards.
Our range of security solutions makes it easier to keep your property safe and secure at all times. We handle all your security-related requirements, from installing access control software to printing smart access cards and integrating them with the primary system.
View Elliott’s security solution offerings at www.elliottdata.com or contact us today at 1-888-345-8511 for more details about smart cards, and learn how implementing them can take your enterprise’s security to another level.