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3 Types of Access Control: Which is Right for Your Building

Security remains a growing concern for everyone.

Both residential and commercial properties are susceptible to all kinds of threats that continue to become more serious over time. Even the slightest vulnerability in any security system can be leveraged to your disadvantage. One such threat is unauthorized access into the property.

Door security and access control in buildings are of particular concern due to the foot traffic they get each day. The bigger the building, the more foot traffic there is, making access control very challenging.

Keeping an eye on who enters and exits the premises is crucial for the safety and security of the building and its inhabitants, ensuring only residents and employees are allowed access.

Additionally, there are specific areas inside the building, such as server rooms and areas where confidential information is stored, that must be protected from both outside and inside threats such as internal/employee theft.

The traditional lock and key systems have been used for centuries to ensure only people with a key to the door enter the premises, but they are quite obviously not very effective in monitoring foot traffic.

Keys can be lost, copied, or stolen, possibly by a burglar looking for an opportunity to break in, compromising the overall security and putting everyone at risk.

To overcome this problem, access control systems were developed in the 1960s to provide a keyless door entry system and more control over access permissions.

Access through the systems can be controlled via a keypad, fob, card, intercom, or even biometric data such as fingerprints or retina scans, and the systems can record data such as who has entered and left and at what times.

Due to their ease-of-use and control, access control systems have become increasingly popular, replacing their traditional key counterparts in small and large businesses, schools, banks, as well as domestic properties.

There are 3 main types of door access control systems, each providing different kinds of access permissions and levels of control. To determine which type is right for your building, you must first understand how access control systems work.


Simply put, access control systems work by unlocking a door with a card swipe, key pin, RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), or biometrics technology.

They come with a variety of controllers that allow only authorized people to enter a building, and they all vary widely in terms of control and complexity.

However, there are a few basic components that every type of door access control system makes use of. The typical ones are:

  • Access cards

Access cards are what enable access control systems to go keyless. Each card carries a unique pin that serves as identification credentials. These credentials determine whether the system will grant or restrict access to an area.

The cards are typically proximity cards and some can also be inserted or swiped. They are usually the size of a credit card, which makes them super portable and easy to fit inside a wallet.

There are alternatives to using access cards, as discussed above, such as keypads or biometrics. Keypads require the access pin to be entered into the system and biometrics make use of fingerprints, retina, and face scans to check the identity of the person trying to gain access. Biometrics is the most secure form of access control, particularly useful in buildings that have valuables and highly confidential assets that need to be protected.

  • Card reader

The card reader is what checks the card to grant or deny access. It is usually mounted on the door or the wall next to the door.

It reads the credentials on the card and sends a request to the system server to check the permissions. If the credentials have access permissions for the area, the door is unlocked. Otherwise, it remains locked.

There are different types of card readers, with some requiring the insertion or swiping of an access card, while others working on RFID technology.

Access control systems using keypads or biometrics don’t have a card reader and the data is sent directly to the server upon entering the pin, fingerprints, or retina scans.

  • Electronic locks

Electronic locks are part of the hardware infrastructure of an access control system and are usually connected via wires that supply them the power to lock and unlock the door.

Some locks, known as fail-safe locks, are locked when supplied with power, while others, known as fail secure locks, are unlocked when supplied with power.

Main doors such as the ones at the entrance must be fail-safe to be compliant with building codes and fire regulations that state that people must be able to exit a building at any time, even in the event of a power outage.

Other areas of the building that must be secured and locked at all times, such as the server rooms, must have a fail-secure locking mechanism. An additional feature of fail secure doors are electrified push bars that enable people locked inside to exit quickly in case of an emergency.

  • Access control panel

The access control panel also called the intelligent controller, is what all the locks in the system are wired to. When the correct credentials are entered into the reader at the door, the control panel receives the request and unlocks the specific door after communicating access permissions with the access control server.

It is installed somewhere secure, usually in the IT room, where it cannot be tampered with.

  • Access control server

The access control server acts as the brain of the system, storing all the access permissions in the database.

The final decision to unlock the door, or keep it locked, is in the hands of the server that checks whether the entered credentials match the ones authorized for that door.

In addition to controlling the locking mechanism, the server also tracks and records the activities and events related to the door access, allowing system administrators to pull out reports and gather data.

The server can be set up on a dedicated local computer, the cloud, or a decentralized server where the access permissions are stored in the card reader at the door.


Different access control systems are suitable for different types of buildings, depending on the level of door security they require and how they wish to grant access permissions to secure areas, down to each file cabinet or drawer containing sensitive information.

The 3 types of door access control systems are:

Discretionary Access Control (DAC) is a type of access control system that gives control to the owner, over any objects they own, to grant or restrict access, and is usually the default option for access management.

Each entry point in the system has an Access Control List (ACL) that has information about access permissions, that are based on specific rules.

The DAC is the least restrictive model as compared to the other types because the owner of the list can transfer authenticated access to other users. The end-users have complete control over the system and can determine the access type of other users and transfer ownership.

In simple terms, DAC is only restricted by the level of security and safety that the owner wishes to practice.

The benefit to this flexible system is that the end-users can easily change and configure access permissions based on what they think is right. The drawback is that it often gives too much authority to them, and they can knowingly or unknowingly pass access to inappropriate users, leaving the system in a vulnerable state.

The DAC system is a good choice for smaller setups since it offers convenience and simplicity, and is the least restrictive access control type.

For larger buildings with lots of users, Discretionary Access Control (DAC) might not be the best choice for the same reasons it’s great for smaller premises. The lack of complexity and control make it unsuitable for larger setups.

Mandatory Access Control (MAC) is on the opposite end of the access control spectrum and is the most restrictive form of access control.

As opposed to the DAC, the MAC is firmly controlled by policies, the operating system, and only the system owners and administrators, making it impossible for end-users and employees to control or change access permissions.

The MAC system classifies all end-users based on settings created by the system administrator. It provides them with labels established with security guidelines that either grant or deny them access to an area.

If the system administrator wishes to change a user’s access permissions, it would require them to create a new profile and credentials for the said user since their previous classification wouldn’t allow permissions not specified in the old profile.

Due to its strict control, Mandatory Access Control (MAC) is usually implemented in buildings that have confidential information to protect and require a high level of security such as military institutions and government organizations.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC), also called non-discretionary access control, gives access permissions to users based on their roles within the organization by administrators who manage and administer them.

Instead of assigning access permissions to multiple individuals, the system administrator assigns access to specific job titles. Permissions are granted according to the roles and the roles are assigned to the users.

For example, rather than assigning access permissions to an individual who is a project manager, access permissions are assigned to the project manager position.

The simple setup and ease-of-use of the system have made the RBAC the most popular access control system, especially for system owners and administrators in both residential and commercial properties.


Access control systems provide much more than just allowing authorized people to access your building. They are an effective door security solution that enables you to track access as well as manage permissions.

Here are all the reasons you need access control in your building:

  • Drawbacks of keys

The first reason why you need to go digital is probably the reason why door access control systems came into being; to overcome the issue of keys being lost, copied, and stolen.

Keys are one of the most commonly lost items, and in case someone in your building loses their keys, you might have to get the entire locks changed.

Failing to do so leaves the security system in a vulnerable state since you will never know who has access to the lost keys. Changing the locks is the most efficient way to ensure the security of your building remains intact.

Also, unlike access control systems, key usage cannot be tracked. You can never tell when someone has used a key to open the door or tried to gain access. Remember, data is everything in today’s world. The more information you have on your security and its parameters, the better it is in defending yourself or, god forbid, for catching perpetrators.

Additionally, keys can be difficult to manage, especially for buildings and large properties with lots of doors and their corresponding keys. Carrying a large number of keys can be inconvenient and inefficient, along with being a serious security risk, unless a master key system is used.

  • Restrict access and reduce the threat

Restricting access inside a building reduces both external and internal threats. An access control system makes sure that only authorized people are allowed to enter, maintaining the door security of the building.

In case of an office building, the owners would want to make sure that only employees are allowed to enter, inhibiting anyone not a part of the business.

There might be rooms inside the building with sensitive business information that the owners and higher management want to protect, even from their employees. Access control systems prove to be very beneficial in such scenarios, granting access only to authorized personnel.

In case of the building being a residential one, the residents wouldn’t want any random outsider to break in and possibly cause harm to them. An access control system ensures that doesn’t happen.

  • Audit trails

The fact that access control systems enable tracking the activity related to door access is remarkable. You cannot only control who enters your building, but you can also know when someone tried to gain access, raising the alarm for a threat.

The log of events gives employers more control and knowledge on who is accessing the building and at what times. This helps them know if an employee is habitually late to work, or in the case of employee theft, it gives them all the information on who was in the area during the time of the incident.

  • Protection

Access control systems help make a safer environment for residents and employees of a building, giving them peace of mind.

Employees will appreciate the thought their employers give to their safety and security, making them more productive and motivated.

Similarly, when choosing a place to live, people consider all aspects of the area, especially the security aspect. The presence of an access control system at the door will give them a sense of protection, knowing that no one can break in and gain unauthorized access to harm them.


Calder security provides a complete package for access control systems for both residential and commercial properties with professional installation, maintenance, and repair services.

We’ve been working in the security industry since 1976 and our MLA approved locksmiths can advise you on the best type of system for your building.

We offer all types of access control systems including access cards, keypads, intercom, proximity fob, as well as biometric systems that work with fingerprints or retina scans for large scale commercial enterprises as well as smaller businesses and homes.

We understand the importance of regular maintenance for your access control systems and can maintain and enhance door entry systems regardless of whether if we installed the system or not.

Our team understands how your building’s security can potentially be compromised if your access control system develops faults, as it could affect the locking mechanism. We can get systems repaired quickly and efficiently and operate a 24-hour emergency service for your need and convenience.

Contact us right away for our state-of-the-art access control systems to make your building safe and secure.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay