Intell community invests in smart cards for physical access control

The intelligence community's venture capital arm is investing in an access control system that leverages digital certificates on smart cards for stand-alone electronic locks.

The Card-Connected system developed by CoreStreet allows the locks to authenticate digital credentials and enforce access policy without being networked. Log data is written to the card and uploaded later to a central management system, providing an auditable trail for access controls without have to wire the lock to the central system.

'It's like sneakernet, but with smart cards,' said CoreStreet marketing director Guy Vancollie, referring to the method of transferring electronic files by walking a disk or drive from one computer to another. The smart card is the transport mechanism.

In-Q-Tel is an independent company set up by the CIA to invest in commercial development of technologies that could be used by the intelligence community. By making the technology available commercially, agencies can acquire it more economically. Card-Connected appeared promising for a physical access control initiative, but some enhancements in the system were needed.

'They had some specific requirements that we would not have taken on as a commercial investment,' said CoreStreet Chief Executive Officer Chris Broderick.

The system uses strong encryption to protect data being exchanged by cards and physical access points. The card is presented to a reader at a stand-alone electronic lock which contains access policies for the location. Identity is verified by the card's digital certificate, and the card also can contain data on access privileges. Log data about the transaction is written to the card. In a typical deployment, the same card also would be used to gain access to the main entrance of a facility, such as the door of a building or the gate of a campus. The main entrance would be equipped with a wired reader to verify the card. At the same time, the wired reader at the main entrance also would upload data about access through stand-alone locks to a central management system.

The advantage of the system is that not every lock has to be wired into a network to provide centrally managed control, lowering the cost and time of deployment. This could make it more feasible to have auditable access control on a wider variety of physical things, such as file cabinets.

Card-Connected is currently available with a limited number of lock systems. CoreStreet is working to increase the number of companies that support the technology so as to create a larger environment in which it will work. Companies are interested because by lowering the cost of deploying lock systems it could increase the market for their use.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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