Access With A Twist

Physical Security

​​​​Photo by iStock​

Access With A Twist
 

​Living on campus affords college students the opportunity to commune with their peers, live close to academic halls, and take advantage of the city where their college is located. At Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee—often referred to as Vandy, for short—more than 90 percent the students choose to live on campus the entire time they are in school. 

“With students on campus, we have to make sure that only students are accessing their residence halls, rather than members of the public wandering onto the campus,” says Mark Brown, assistant director of business services at the university. 

For this reason, having a secure access control program is of utmost importance to Vanderbilt, which has more than 6,400 undergraduate students. Because the school is situated in an urban environment, it wanted to ensure only those with proper credentials could access residence halls, academic buildings, and faculty and staff areas. 

The school offers wireless proximity access cards to students, faculty, and staff. Presenting the credential close to the reader opens the door. But​ with a $600 million building expansion project underway, Vanderbilt wanted to upgrade to a more convenient system for access control that was Bluetooth-enabled, eventually moving to mobile credentials. This would allow those on campus to more conveniently access their dormitories, dining halls, and academic buildings with their mobile devices, and give the university a simple way to provision and deprovision credentials. 

Vanderbilt’s access control platform is CBORD Gold, which integrates with the university’s HID Global access cards and door readers. Because of its existing relationship with HID, Vanderbilt decided to conduct a pilot phase of HID Mobile Access. With this platform, credential holders can use their smartphone, tablet, or wearable device to unlock doors. “You hold up your device to the card reader, just as you would a contactless card, and it sends that credential to the reader and unlocks the door, giving you access,” Brown explains. 

During the pilot phase in mid-2015, Vanderbilt tested HID Mobile Access with faculty and staff for several months, after which it decided to begin adopting the product at a broader scale. 

“After the pilot, we decided we’re not buying any more readers without Bluetooth,” Brown says. “Probably 90 percent of our contactless readers on campus are Bluetooth enabled.” 

Another feature from HID Global called Twist and Go allows users to enter the door from further away by making a twist motion with their device—like twisting a doorknob. 

“The idea of twisting is to show that intent to go through the door, so you twist as you approach, and you can be probably up to 30 feet away,” Brown says. “When you install the door reader you can change that range, so if you only want it to be available from a much closer distance you can dial it all the way down.” 

During the pilot phase, Vanderbilt deployed the Twist and Go feature on a roll-up door to a parking deck so that authorized drivers could enter more conveniently. “On hot days or cold days, you don’t even have to open the window to your vehicle,” Brown adds. 

Currently, only faculty and staff have access credentials on their phones—eventually the university plans to roll it out to the entire student body. “The readers are all enabled,” Brown says. “So, when we do get to that point, we’re ready to go.” 

With HID Mobile Access, issuing credentials to new users is simple. New users receive an email on their phone with a link to the HID Global app. “As soon as they’ve accepted that invitation and clicked on the link in the email that gets sent to them, the credential gets pushed down to their handset,” Brown explains. “So really from the user experience it’s very easy.”

The solution cuts down on the time it takes the university to issue credentials. “When it comes to issuing the identities to somebody, what was probably a 10-minute process before can now be done in literally 10 seconds,” he adds. 

For contractors or other parties needing temporary access, Brown says provisioning those credentials is simple and more secure than a physical card. “Just a couple of days later—or however long they’re going to be on campus—you can pull that credential off the phone, so they’re not walking around with a credential maybe they forgot to hand in.” 

In October 2017, Vanderbilt began slowly reissuing its students’ access cards to Seos, the newest version of HID Global authentication—an upgrade from the current platform, iClass. “We plan to slowly phase in the Seos chip as we issue cards over the next couple of years, and then eventually we’ll just take the iClass chip off the card,” Brown says. “That way we’ve migrated to the latest and most secure sort of card format.” 

HID also wrote an application programming interface (API) for Vanderbilt, so the HID Seos and CBORD platforms could communicate. 

The convenience of the new system has made it easier to conduct business on campus, Brown notes. “If faculty and staff are working late in the evening and they pop in to the restroom, they might leave their ID card on their desk but they’ll probably take their phone with them, so they’ll come back and they can get back into their suites,” Brown says. “So in terms of convenience it’s been very popular.” 

There have been virtually no issues since the deployment of HID Mobile Access, Brown says, save for when someone forgets to turn on the Bluetooth feature on their device. “That’s the one issue we had, but it was a very minor one, and not something that happens very often,” he notes. 

Brown iterates that keeping students safe is a top priority, and having a secure credential makes security that much stronger. “We need to make sure that students are in a safe environment, so it’s one less thing that they have to worry about and that the parents have to worry about,” he says.