Physical Access Control Systems: Intro Guide

Security should be top of mind for all building and business owners. No matter the industry, no matter the size, keeping employees and property safe and secure is critical to your ongoing success.

But when it comes to security, you may be wondering exactly what method or system is best. The good news is that physical access control systems can protect your physical property from a number of security threats without negatively impacting the ability of your tenants or staff to go about their regular business.

Here is a quick guide to physical access control systems and what you should know about them!

What is a Physical Access Control System?

Physical access control systems (PACs) are a form of physical security designed to keep unauthorized people from gaining access to a physical space.

These systems are commonly used as a way to protect against theft, vandalism, and trespassing.

These security systems are designed to control who gains access, as well as when and how they gain that access. Essentially, physical access control is made up of physical barriers that work in conjunction with authority and authorization measures to ensure ultimate security.

The main components of physical access control are:

  • Access point: This is the entry point where the barrier is needed. Access points can include locking doors, turnstiles, or gates. There may be a single access point, like an office in a larger building complex or multiple access points.
  • Personal credentials: In general, PACs require individuals to have personal credentials to access a facility or to access data. These personal credentials may take the form of fobs, PIN codes, passwords, mobile credentials, and encrypted badges. These credentials let the system know exactly who is attempting to gain access.
  • Readers and/or Keypads: Readers or keypads can be found at the access point. They send the credential data to a control panel for authentication and a request for access authorization. In the case of a keypad, individuals will enter their PIN before gaining access. Some systems will use biometric scanners and individuals will be required to complete the scan before entry.
  • Control panel: The control panel receives the credential information from the reader and verifies its validity. If the credential is approved, the control panel sends authorization data to the access point through the access control server, unlocking the access point. If the credential is not approved, access will be denied.
  • Access control server: The access control server stores access privileges, data, and audit logs. Depending on how the system is set up, the server could be on-premises or in the cloud. To mitigate hacking opportunities and potential security breaches, regular system maintenance and software updates should be carried out on a regular basis.

Most Common Forms of Physical Access Control

Now that you have a basic understanding of the components of physical access control systems, it is time to look at some of the most common forms of PACs.

The most common types of PACs include:

  • Fob and keycard entry systems
  • PINs and keypad entry
  • Face or eye scans
  • Fingerprint scans
  • Mobile app scan

What to Look For in a Physical Access Control System

As you can see, PACs are varied. Many come with options and additional features that can help to create a more suitable option for your building or your business.

To help you narrow down your choices and find your perfect security solution, we’ve created this list of things to consider when choosing a physical access control system:

  • Type of authentication: There are a few different types of authentication that can be used, like a personal identification number (PIN) and keypad, card or fob, mobile app, or biometrics (i.e., fingerprint, voice recognition, eye or face scan). You need to think about the level of security required and the system that will work best for your budget and organization. If, for example, you need minimal security and have a tight budget, a keypad or card scanner may be your best option.
  • Ease of use: How difficult is the system to use? Will building occupants or staff require specialized training or is it relatively easy to figure out? Does the system have a complex installation process? These questions are important as they can help you to factor in potential downtime as well as possible extra expenses associated with the implementation of the PAC.
  • Scalability: As your operations grow, will the PAC be able to grow along with you? Can you easily add more hardware to adapt to your changing needs?
  • Updates: To maintain a high level of security, PACs will need software updates from time to time. How are these updates handled? Will they be automatic? Will your IT department handle it?

Here are a few other things to look for in a physical access control system:

  • Mobile capabilities: With an available mobile app, staff and building tenants can use their phones to gain access. This is a built-in two-factor authentication method. Biometrics can be used on the phone and then the phone can be scanned at a reader, ensuring that only the authorized people gain entry.
  • Flexibility: You will want a system that works with you. Look for features like timed access, request for exit, 256-bit AES encryption, multiple credential access, and motion detection.
  • Reporting: Look for a system that allows you to generate reports on specific access points as well as the comings and goings of specific individuals.

IP or Cloud-Based System

Modern PACs are powered by the internet. This means you can have an IP-based system or a cloud-based system.

IP-based systems come in two categories: network-based and web-based. Network-based PACs will connect to your organization’s network either through a wireless connection or a hard connection. The software controlling the system will be housed on the organization’s computers and servers. A web-based system will make use of the internet to access software that is managed, maintained, and stored on the manufacturer’s servers.

Advantages of an IP-based System

  • Cheaper costs
  • Scalability
  • Easy to upgrade, add features, and integrate into existing systems
  • Can change settings or lock/unlock doors from anywhere. Can be done on-site through the network or remotely through a VPN

Disadvantages of an IP-based System

  • Dependent on the network. If the network goes down, it is possible that your security system goes down with it. Most systems, however, are designed to store data to prevent this issue
  • If a hacker gains access to the network, they can also gain access to your security system

With cloud-based systems, the hardware communicates with the software through the cloud allowing for greater scalability and flexibility.

Advantages of a Cloud-based System

  • Remote control of system hardware including the ability to trigger lockdowns or unlock access points
  • Instant credentialing for new users. Instant revocation of credentials as well
  • Real-time notifications
  • Automatic system updates
  • Real-time audit trails

Disadvantages of a Cloud-based System

  • Cloud subscription costs
  • Remote server unavailability can lead to a cloud service failure

What is Logical Access Control?

Logical access control (LAC) limits virtual access to important hardware and data.

LACs use different methods, like passwords and advanced biometrics, to secure access to computer networks, system files, and stored data.

The three main types of logical access control include:

  • Mandatory access control: This type of access is regulated by a central authority and access is granted or denied based on the user’s clearance. You will most often find this type of access control in government or military settings
  • Discretionary access control: With this type of system, access is granted based on the network owner or administrator. These individuals establish the policies that dictate who can access the resources.
  • Role-based access control: This is a popular type of access control and under this system, access is based on individuals or groups with a specifically defined business function. For example, certain permissions will be granted to C-suite executives while others will be given to entry-level employees. This system ensures that users do not have access to data or file systems beyond what their specific tasks require.

Physical Access Control vs Logical Access Control

While similar on the surface, physical access controls and logical access controls cover different areas. While often used together, they do not really overlap in function.

PACs limit on-premises access to physical spaces. They can be used to limit access to the building as a whole or to partition specific rooms, offices, server rooms, or laboratories.

LACs use identity authorization to grant or limit access to vital data or digital assets. To keep these assets secure, LAC systems use things like entry schedules and entry requirements as a way to limit access.

Physical access controls should be used to control foot traffic into a building or a specific area of an office or organization. For many, this is enough to keep your employees and physical assets safe and protected from unwanted and unauthorized users.

If you have online data, complex computer systems, and digital files containing personal or proprietary information, you need to ensure that these things cannot be accessed by outsiders.

Adding LACs to your security system will not only ensure that no one from outside the organization can access this data, but they will also ensure that only the authorized users from the inside can gain access. Limiting the number of people that can see this data will help to prevent data breaches, insider leaks, and system failures.


Physical access control systems are an excellent way to keep your building, business, personnel, and property safe from unauthorized individuals and malicious actors.

PACs are a cost-effective security solution that can grow with your needs and be easily modified to fit any changes in operations and workflow. When coupled with LACs, PACs will keep your vital data and digital assets protected, giving you valuable peace of mind.

Whether you control access remotely or on-premises, a PAC is a forward-thinking, future-proof solution to your security needs.

To learn more about access control systems or determine which system is right for you, feel free tocontact us. All-Tech Communication’s growing team of experts will be happy to answer all of your questions and help you to choose a security system you can feel good about.