Date icon31 May 2019

Fingerprint access control

Fingerprints are one of our most distinctive physical characteristics. The chances of having exactly the same fingerprint pattern as someone else are one in 64 billion. This, plus the fact that fingerprints can be easily and economically analysed and referenced, and that they stay the same even as we age, makes them an ideal form of identification for access control. This is called a biometric credential.

Thanks to smartphone functionality, fingerprint recognition is now a part of everyday life for many of us, yet this technology has been preserving building security for decades. Here’s why fingerprint access control is such an effective access control measure.

Fingerprint biometric basics

Identification using fingerprint biometric data has been in use by the police and other authorities since the late 19th century, although it’s come a long way since then.

To identify a finger biometric impression left at the scene of a crime, police need to compare that image of the suspect’s fingerprint against all those on their database. Before automated fingerprint identification, this was a complicated and a time-consuming manual task, but today’s computerised storage allows for vastly increased search rate.

The way we scan, and store fingerprints has evolved over time too. Fingerprint scanners can capture the unique ridges, bifurcation and enclosures (the swirls on your finger) of a print in minute detail, convert these into a unique series of points and then use an algorithm to create a long unique reference code.

This numerical and/or alphanumeric code is how fingerprint biometric data is stored for use by access control companies, allowing for much quicker searches. The fingerprints that “match” in terms of the result of the algorithm are examined visually to confirm there are no false positives – such as in cases where the reference number is similar, but the actual fingerprint is not the same. Over the years, the increasing accuracy of these algorithms has enabled fingerprint recognition to become an ideal solution for other applications, including access control and time and attendance

How fingerprint scanners work

As they are classed as personal data, private organisations are not legally allowed to store fingerprint biometric images. Today’s fingerprint readers only “view” a fingerprint to double-check the reference code against the print it denotes.

For example, a smartphone only stores a few biometric references on the device itself, to compare against when the phone is unlocked or used to make payment. Each reference takes up memory on the phone but as there are only ever one or two people with access, fingerprint recognition storage isn’t generally an issue on a personal device.

Fingerprints readers used by hundreds or even thousands of people are a different story. These fingerprint readers take a reduced number of references per person to preserve memory, which allows for more users. Each fingerprint reference is compared to the total number of references on the reader, so these readers have a slightly slower read rate than that of a smartphone, for example.

Installing more fingerprint readers, or programming ID cards with fingerprint references are two ways to increase read rates and keep bottlenecks to a minimum. 

Fingerprints can be captured through a range of reader technologies. Reader types include optical, capacitive, ultrasound and thermal technologies, each of which ‘read’ fingerprint references in a different way.

Some read what the human eye can see; the swirls of the fingerprint. Others reference the veins or the collagen within the finger. Vein and collagen fingerprint readers offer a strong read rate even in moist or dirty environments and can read even poor-quality fingerprints.

Why use fingerprint readers?

Fingerprint access control software is popular for many reasons; it’s highly accurate, easy to implement and doesn’t have the ongoing cost of cards and card management. Compared to proximity access control, the increased read time still makes it suitable for organisations who need to verify and admit people to a building quickly and simply.

Even industries with harsh or demanding working environments can make use of fingerprint access control – some fingerprint readers can accurately scan a fingerprint in or outside, during extreme weather conditions and even through dust, dirt or clear latex gloves.

As fingerprint scanning technology advances, so too does the accuracy and imperviousness of fingerprint access control. Liveness detection ensures a finger in contact with a reader must demonstrate live blood flow before access is granted. 

Staff don’t need to remember ID cards, PIN codes, passwords or other forms of proximity access control ID, and there’s no security risk posed by lost or duplicated cards or ID data. What’s more, it’s not just access control that fingerprint readers can help an organisation stay on top of; the technology can also streamline workforce time and attendance. With a simple fingerprint scan, employees can clock in and out, record their location on site and feed into a central hub of business data, all without the need for a paper trail or extra admin.

Access control at your fingertips

Versatile and cost-effective, fingerprint access control can be an invaluable security and management tool for a huge range of organisations. To find out whether it could be the right access control solution for you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with our friendly team.


About the Author - Lynden Jones

Fingerprint access control blog author Lynden Jones

Lynden joined Touchstar ATC (formally Feedback Data) in a sales role for Access Control in 2010.  Prior to joining the company, Lynden held both Production and Account Manager roles, gaining wide technical and commercial experience within the electronics market.  

In 2013 Lynden was promoted to Sales Director and in 2017 he took overall responsibility of the business as Managing Director. As well as running Touchstar ATC, Lynden still remains extremely active in the sales and key account management aspects of the business. When not involved in the business, Lynden is a keen performance car enthusiast.