The 3 Types of Access Control

There are three main types of access control systems, which determine how permissions are assigned and controlled within an organization. Not all fit with each business either. Business size, the number of users and entries, and the level of security needed all play a factor. For example, a single office will need very different security controls than a hospital or large warehouse facility. So, how do you know which is best for your space? Let’s take a look at what makes each system unique:

Discretionary Access Control (DAC)

Discretionary access control is the least restrictive, and therefore the least recommended system type for commercial and business security. The DAC model gives business owners, rather than security experts, control over access rights and permissions for all users. A DAC model is only recommended if the business owner is well-versed in security policies and best practices.

Mandatory Access Control (MAC)

If your business requires high security or confidentiality, then this type of access control is for you. Within a MAC paradigm, one person is given authority to establish access guidelines and assign permissions for the entire organization, such as a Chief Security Officer. MACs give the administrator sole discretion over access permissions and security clearance.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC)

A role-based paradigm defines permissions by roles assigned to users in the system. Within a business setting, access privileges are often based on employment status and job title. This includes giving management full-building access, while contractors or employees from a specific department will only have access to the spaces they need to do their work. RBAC is a user-friendly model and allows administrators to group users and adjust permissions from a central database. RBAC systems usually employ the principles of least privilege and separation of privilege, where users are compartmentalized and given the minimum level of access required to perform their job.

Types of Access Control Software

We’ve come a long way from the traditional lock and metal key. They also involve software to control privileges and authenticate users. The most common types of access control software include:

Server-Based Access Control

Traditionally used in large organizations and commercial buildings, on-premise systems rely on local servers to host and run the software. Server-based systems usually require organizations to purchase and renew software licenses, and a dedicated IT staff to maintain the servers. If the organization needs access control at multiple locations, it will need servers installed at each site.

Web-Based Access Control

Also known as embedded access control, this type of software uses a web browser application to operate and connects to the LAN so that it can be accessed from any device within the network.

Cloud-Based Access Control

This one is a bit more unique. A decentralized server hosts the cloud-based software, which is typically managed by a third party and syncs regularly with local ACUs. This requires an internet connection to support cloud-based access control. In the event of an outage, the ACU will simply sync once the system is back online.

Types of Access Control Door Readers

Another component of access control systems for businesses is reader technology. To authenticate credentials, organizations should install door readers that offer the security and controls necessary to secure the building. These are the most common types of access control:

Keypad Readers

A keypad door reader requires a user to type in a PIN or passcode to unlock the door. Keypad readers offer good security as there is no physical credential that can be passed around or stolen. However, users could still share their PINs with others, compromising building security.

Swipe Card Readers

This type of door card reader works with key cards or badges that have a magnetic strip that contains authentication data. Users swipe their cards through the reader to unlock the door. Daily wear and tear on the hardware and cards mean they need to be serviced and replace more frequently.

RFID Door Readers

Radiofrequency identification technology has many uses, including for access control. With an RFID system, the credentials contain information tags that send signals to nearby readers. Most RFID systems use passive RFID, also referred to as proximity or prox card technology. Proximity-based access control systems most often use key cards or key fobs for access.

Biometric Door Readers

Often the most expensive type of door security reader, biometric readers use scanners to identify users by a unique physical feature, such as a fingerprint, iris, or facial recognition. Mobile access control systems with smartphone-based credentials can use the biometrics built into the phone as a form of two-factor authentication.

Smart Lock Door Readers

The most advanced and versatile door security readers on this list, smart readers often combine multiple types of reader technology into one system. Smart readers offer greater flexibility and security with support for mobile credentials, key cards, key fobs, and even touchless unlocking capabilities.

Types of Access Control Methods

One of the biggest differentiators between access control systems is how authorized users unlock the door. The type of credentials supported by the system also affects the capabilities and security of the system, as well as factors into the cost of the system. Not all systems can support every type of credential.

Physical Keys

The most basic form of access control requires authorized individuals to carry a metal key for each door they need to unlock.

Pin Codes

With keypad reader systems, users have to enter a unique PIN code to unlock the door.

Key Cards

Found most often in commercial projects, key card door lock systems use signals or code embedded in a key card to authenticate users. Depending on the system, key cards can include a magnetic strip for swipe systems, or use an RFID activated chip for a proximity door lock system.

Key Fobs

A more modern credential for proximity and RFID systems, key fobs are small and convenient to use. Depending on the type of security and functionality of the credentials, key fob system prices can range greatly.

Mobile Credentials

With this type of access control, a user’s smartphone is the key. Usually app-based, mobile credentials allow users to unlock the door by tapping a button inside an app and often support additional access methods such as Apple Watch and tablet apps. Mobile access control systems that use Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular data also can support touchless and proximity-based unlocking.


High-security spaces are where biometric control systems thrive. Technology including fingerprint readers, facial recognition, and iris scanning are common examples of biometric access control. Another way to incorporate biometrics is within a two-factor authentication system.

Interested in an access control system for your business? Contact us today!