Blog Post View

Access control experiences grew by 23% from 2019-2024 given the importance of security in workplace and business settings. The use of smartphones is the number one preferred method to unlock the office while 66% prioritize security over convenience in work environments. But what is access control and how do security cards work? We take a look at the history of access cards and how they evolved over the years using technology.

Mechanical Locks and Keys

The use of keys came about because of the need to address the limitations of unsecured spaces, security, control, and privacy. Pretty much like today, people began accumulating possessions and started storing them in dwellings. Keys offered a way to secure valuables and deter theft. In addition, there was a need to control specific areas and in this regard, keys enabled designated individuals to enter restricted spaces.

Furthermore, keys offered a sense of privacy giving individuals control over who could access their living spaces or belongings. Keys and locks came about as early as 4000 BCE. The oldest known example is the Egyptian lock found near Nineveh. Made of wooden pin locks, a key is used to lift the pin allowing the bolt to slide and unlock the door. This type of lock is considered the pioneer in modern pin tumbler locks. Around the same time as the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians also created early versions of locks and keys. Typically made of wood, these locks used comparable pin-and-tumbler mechanisms.

In 500 BC, the Romans made significant developments in lock and key technology developing small, portable, and more intricate locks made from such metals as bronze and iron. Note that Roman keys were often designed to be worn as rings enabling the wearer to carry their keys easily. During the medieval period, locks and keys became more sophisticated and they were widely adopted in Europe. At this time, blacksmiths began creating more complex locking mechanisms to improve security including warded locks which utilized a series of obstructions or ‘wards’ that can only be opened with a correctly shaped key. Locks continued to evolve during the Renaissance with the increased use of decorative elements and more complex designs.

Therefore, locksmiths became skilled artisans focusing on the security and craftsmanship of locks. During the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, there were significant advancements in manufacturing and standardization. For example, the Bramah Lock, invented in 1784 by Joseph Bramah was renowned for its high level of security and precision engineering. Another important invention was the Chubb Detector Lock patented by Jeremiah Chubb. This lock featured a detector mechanism that indicated if someone had tried to tamper with it. Similarly, the Yale Lock developed by Linus Yale Sr in 1848 utilized a pin tumbler mechanism that remains a standard in lock design today.

The Modern Era

Further innovations were developed in the 20th century heralding the advent of electronic and digital locks. The century saw the arrival of magnetic cards, radio-frequency identification (RFID), and even biometric systems. Today, traditional keys are complemented or replaced by more advanced access control methods. The objective remains the same though - to safeguard security and boost convenience as tailored to specific needs and environments. There are also different types of access and security cards. In the 60s, magnetic stripe cards were introduced. A magnetic stripe is attached on the back of a card where data is encoded. The encoded info may include cardholder data, an account number, expiration date, and so on.

It works by inserting through a card reader where the encoded data is read. The decoded data is transmitted from the card reader to the access control system where it is authenticated determining whether access should be granted or not.

In the 70s, personal identification numbers (PINs) were created adding a layer of security alongside the physical card. Unfortunately, magnetic strip cards are susceptible to damage and security weaknesses which led to a decline in their use giving rise to more secure technologies like proximity cards which use RFID.

In the 1980s and 1990s, contactless cards were developed which transmitted data to a reader without physical contact. Thereafter, smart cards were invented which were embedded with microchips offering more sophisticated access control systems and storage of additional data.

Meanwhile, the 21st century welcomed biometric security features like fingerprint scanners or facial recognition integrated into access cards. Biometric traits are unique to each person making it difficult to forge or retrieve credentials. Furthermore, biometric verification is fast allowing quick entry. Even if a card is lost or stolen, the lack of the corresponding biometric traits prevents unauthorized access making it an effective solution for high-security environments. Another method of controlling access is through the use of smartphones. They can store credentials eliminating the need for physical cards.

It works by using a downloadable application on the smartphone where digital authorizations act as the virtual key. Credentials can take different forms such as secured encrypted data, a secure element which is a tamper-proof chip, or cloud-based credentials. The phone’s hardware, typically Bluetooth or Near Field Communication (NFC), facilitates communication with the access control reader which is installed at entry points. Wireless communication with mobile devices takes place to verify passes. The verification process might involve checking if the card is still valid and has not been revoked. It also ensures that it belongs to an authorized user. In some cases, there might be additional verification steps like a PIN or biometric authentication on the device. Overall, mobile access control provides a safe and convenient way to manage access to buildings, facilities, or restricted areas.

The Future

Access control in the future is likely to see even greater innovation. To illustrate, multi-factor-authentication combines different verification methods like PINs, biometrics, and mobile tokens to ensure reliable access systems. Moreover, cloud-based access management (CBAM) can centralize access control management enabling real-time monitoring and increased scalability. It uses cloud computing technology to authenticate and authorize users. To do this, a third-party provider offers a centralized platform to manage user identities, access permissions, and resources.

Another innovation in access control is integration with the Internet of Things (IoT). This implies integration with other smart devices in a building. Unlike standalone access control readers that communicate directly with key cards, IoT-enabled systems integrate the control readers, security cards, and other devices with the internet through a central cloud platform. In essence, IoT has a transformative role in access control by offering a more secure, scalable, and data-driven approach to managing access. It makes buildings and facilities smarter and more convenient for authorized users.


Access and security cards have come a long way from simple keys to sophisticated tokens. As technology continues to go forward, more innovative and secure methods of access control can be expected.

Share this post

Comments (0)

    No comment

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated. Spammy and bot submitted comments are deleted. Please submit the comments that are helpful to others, and we'll approve your comments. A comment that includes outbound link will only be approved if the content is relevant to the topic, and has some value to our readers.

Login To Post Comment