If you must hand physical copies of building keys to employees, you know how challenging and time-consuming it is to track personnel access in your facility. Dealing with physical keys is also a security risk because employees may misplace, copy or use keys after hours without your knowledge.
Key fobs are a solution for business owners and building managers who want more secure entry systems. They let you track, manage and limit access to your building without traditional keys. If you’re considering implementing a keyless entry system in your facility, here’s everything you should know.
A key fob is a physical device small enough to attach to a keychain that opens or unlocks doors electronically. A mainstay of keyless electronic door lock systems, the key fob has gone through many iterations since its inception in 1983.
Early systems, used mainly in automobiles, relied on line-of-sight and infrared but were highly susceptible to copying. Systems developed over time to use challenge-response authentication over radio frequency. They now operate primarily over a passive radio frequency identification (RFID) tag, allowing the exchange of data through electromagnetic waves.
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Key fobs and cards are used with various access control systems and offer a straightforward way for small businesses to manage entry into their facilities. They are increasingly popular elements of small business security systems because of their ease of use and customizability, allowing business owners to control who can access which doors, see records of entries and exits, and adjust access as their workforce changes.
A proximity key is a fob that allows for keyless entry. The fob communicates with a reader via RFID that a door should be unlocked. A proximity key is different from a key fob because a fob must be waved in front of the reader to allow access. In contrast, a proximity key can remain in a bag or pocket to unlock the door as long as it’s within a certain distance of the lock. Proximity keys are primarily used for cars but are gradually being adopted for building access control systems.
Modern key fobs work through RFID, an intelligent barcode system that uses electromagnetic fields to identify and track data on “tags” containing stored information. The information then passes through radio waves.
The barcode system works similarly to the barcodes you see on the back of physical products. It requires a reader to gain the information.
To open a door using a key fob, hold or wave the fob in front of the reader. Each key fob contains a microchip with a unique frequency that communicates with the reader and indicates that the door should be opened.
You can program fobs to allow access levels for various uses. For example, you could program your building manager’s fob to access all doors in a facility, while a help desk worker’s fob may allow access to only a few areas.
Key fobs are known for their ease of use, convenience, security and access control features.
If you must fire an employee, cancel entry access on their key fob so they can no longer come into the building. You can also authorize specific employees to enter high-security areas during designated shifts.
Key fobs and proximity keys are often used for cars with keyless entry. However, they are also now commonplace secure entry tools for:
They’re also ideal for buildings with restricted areas, such as storage rooms, and warehouses holding valuable inventory.
Depending on the system and the features you require, an access control system that uses key fobs and readers will cost around $1,500 to $2,500 per door with access for up to 150 people. This includes additional costs like wiring and employee training. Additional or replacement key fobs costs can vary by system and manufacturer. Some replacements can be as much as $400.
Yes, you can make a copy of a key fob. However, it requires some technical knowledge and an RFID reader. You can buy an RFID reader online that allows you to read and write 125 kHz key fobs, the most common type for apartment and office buildings. If you don’t want to do it yourself, several key-fob-copying services can clone your fob for you.
Copying a key fob is equivalent to taking your metal key to the hardware store to make a copy. The copy is identical to the original fob, meaning it’s subject to the same allowances and restrictions.
Can smart door locks be hacked?
Yes, it’s possible to hack into the smart doors that key fobs open, making them among the devices you must secure from hackers.
Security teams have demonstrated how hackers can steal badge data from your fob and copy it to their cards, badges, or fobs. Most RFID-enabled tags are not encrypted and do not carry any sophisticated protection, leaving them vulnerable to scammers.
To avoid your fobs being hacked, consider an RFID-blocking sleeve to cover your fob. You can also change your system to one that does not broadcast information to a hacker’s reader, like a rolling code or challenge-response approach.
If you use key cards, Ryan Smith, owner of Keycard Ninja, recommends including a printed photo ID on them because a photo cannot be duplicated onto a new card.
No. A common magnet is not strong enough to interfere with, impair or otherwise compromise your employees’ key fobs. For example, you could hang your key fob near metal without worrying.
This depends on the system that you use and the locksmith. Some larger locksmiths offer the service, but you should contact your access control system provider first to see what support options it provides.
Generally, no. If you have a professional replace your battery, they should be able to do it without having to reprogram the fobs.
Just as a key fob is an excellent way to upgrade a building’s security, two-factor authentication is one of the best ways to upgrade your business’s digital security.
In recent years, security keys have been created that operate similarly to key fobs. Employees must insert a physical USB-A or USB-C security key or enter an algorithm-based code from the key fob and then enter a strong password to access sensitive information, protected data or online accounts.
Consider the following best practices when introducing a new key fob access system in your organization:
Small and large businesses increasingly use key fobs as an essential element of their access control systems. In addition to being secure – thanks to RFID technology – they are also programmable. Businesses can customize who has access and when that access is allowed.
Key fob systems can also provide reports of who enters or exits an area of a building and when they were there. And because each fob is unique to its owner, it can be easily deactivated if an employee loses one. This is in contrast to physical keys – you’d need to change them all if one is compromised. Business owners should seriously consider key fobs as part of their access control strategy.
Jessica Pooree contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.