Using Bluetooth-enabled Devices as the Key to Remote Monitoring

December 2, 2016 Rachel Pilgren-Kane

Bluetooth-based access control can be used on a variety of equipment, from server cabinets that protect confidential information, to hidden compartments holding valuables on a luxury yacht. 

Steve Spatig, General Manager, Electronic Access Solutions, Southco, Inc.

Bluetooth technology is commonly used in a variety of applications to sync intelligent devices such as smartphones, wireless headsets and health trackers, to networked computers. As the desire to connect more real world activities to the digital world increases, designers across industries are beginning to look at harnessing this technology as a way to enhance physical security as well.

Automotive manufacturers and home security providers are already using Bluetooth enabled devices such as smartphones as a means of granting access control to cars and buildings, replacing traditional mechanical keys, keypads and RFID fobs. When combined with an electronic lock or latch, Bluetooth controllers provide an additional layer of security to enclosure applications where remote access and monitoring are critical. Bluetooth controllers accept an encrypted Bluetooth wireless electronic “key” a from a Bluetooth enabled device such as a cell phone or tablet, and provide secure access to a connected electronic lock.

Combining Bluetooth with Electronic Locks

With over six billion connected devices in operation today, the ability to use a Bluetooth enabled device as a key offers some interesting opportunities for physical security. Access control typically falls under one of three categories: something you have (a key or RFID card), something you know (a pin) or something that is uniquely you, such as a fingerprint. Smartphone based access provides all three. An individual has their device, keys in a pin to send an unlock signal, and, one could argue that cell phones, as they are used today are as unique to the individual as a biometric trait. In fact, many smartphones today provide fingerprint access as an option for login.

Most everyone carries a Bluetooth enabled cell phone with a unique ID, so why not use it as a key? Bluetooth lock controllers offer a significant advantage over traditional mechanical locks. Compared to lock-and-key systems, which have the potential for keys to be misplaced or stolen, electronic keys can be added and deleted electronically in real time, as needed. Securing enclosures with these electronic access solutions helps eliminate physical key inventory and distribution, and ensures that only authorized personnel have access to sensitive equipment and information.

Simplified Remote Access and Monitoring

A significant benefit of the smartphone based Bluetooth access control system is the ability to leverage the cloud to wirelessly control and monitor access to secure areas and the equipment housed within. Applications can be run on smartphones that link to a remote server though cloud based networks. This provides convenient wireless credential management and access monitoring, without having to physically wire into existing networks.

These systems can also link to existing building security systems, allowing for full monitoring of access throughout a facility, and down to equipment that is outfitted with intelligent locking systems. Credentials can be managed from a single application to provide enterprise wide access control. When a secured space or enclosure is accessed, a signal is sent to a monitoring system to confirm and log access. The security administrator also has the ability to easily add and remove access through networked software and applications that connect with end user Bluetooth-enabled devices. This creates an efficient process for generating physical security audit trail reports to meet security compliance requirements.

Choosing the Appropriate Mode of Operation

Standalone operation requires credential programming and audit trail retrieval via a direct (wired or wireless Bluetooth) connection to the controller from a host computer using downloaded administration software. This solution does not require a smartphone connection to the cloud for access, although the Bluetooth enabled phone must be physically presented to the reader for programming.

Bluetooth controllers offer different modes of operation depending on the requirements of the application. Mobile applications are available for download can be used to provide one touch access when a mobile device is within proximity of that lock controller. There is a one-time enrollment that takes place during the installation of the mobile application; from then on, the web based application controls access to the Bluetooth reader.

Cloud based apps are available for smartphones that provide a simple means of enrolling a phone as a valid access credential, eliminating the need for the lock controllers to be wired to a network for remote access control and monitoring.

Security administrators can access specialized, web-based applications that sync user Bluetooth devices to specific Bluetooth readers based on the device ID. This enables remote, time based access by any smartphone by simply placing the Bluetooth device within a preset proximity to the reader. Credential management and access monitoring takes place through the cloud network without any action on the part of the user.

Next Generation Access Control

As Bluetooth enabled smartphones continue to proliferate as a standard means of connecting and communicating between devices, a natural progression will be the use of wireless cell phones as electronic keys. The ubiquitous, and very personalized nature of cell phones has made them the ideal credential for physical access control – something each individual has, something they know, and something unique to the individuals themselves.

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