Levels of Security Series: 2, Barcodes and Magnetic Stripe Cards

Welcome to the second installment in our series on Levels of Security! In this series we are investigating how different ID solutions fit different security needs. As we advise clients on the appropriate badge solutions for their organizations, we find that ID card and badging needs fall into five levels of security. We’ve categorized these by the appropriate solutions: printed PVC cards, bar-code & magnetic stripe cards, proximity devices, contact and contactless RFID cards, and biometric authentication.

LevelsofSecurity2Facilities in need of a low-moderate security solution may find that ID cards printed with a bar-code, or with an encoded magnetic stripe, fill their needs. Like the previous level’s solution, these options are still relatively easy to implement and low cost. Facilities that do not require this level of security may want to refer to the first post in this series: Printed PVC Cards.

Often our clients have other needs that can be met by making enhancements to their regular ID cards, availing themselves of some basic technologies that are commonly in use and available:

  • Restaurants and factories, for example, often use time-clock applications, where employees clock-in and clock-out by “swiping” a mag-stripe or bar-code through a specialized reader, that is connected to their payroll system.
  • Schools, colleges and universities often allow students to obtain meals in on-site facilities, access a library, or make modest purchases from a book store by presenting or swiping an authorized card.
  • Medical service providers’ EHR (electronic health-record) systems often require dual-factor authentication to log in, so equipping the applications’ host PC’s with a bar-code or mag-stripe reader and appropriate access control software, the employee’s ID card can also double as the required second-factor authority.

The bar-code category includes traditional “1D” bar-codes, “2D” bar-codes, or QR codes. These codes are applied to cards by selecting a font that transforms a numeric or alphanumeric code into a lined or pixelated image. These images can be scanned by specialized readers or by smartphone applications that can call up the associated information from a database or business application. This solution requires a database of some kind that associates the unique graphical code with the pertinent information. A significant limitation of this solution is that these codes can be photocopied, resulting in a unauthorized access if secondary security measures are not put in place.

Magnetic Card #2The magnetic stripe card can store a very limited amount of information, such as an account, employee, or student ID number, dollar amount (or other financial balance), & other encoded information. These cards were an early version of modern smart cards, but the age of the technology has also made it less secure than other currently available options. These cards involve technology that make them a slightly higher cost option than “plain” PVC cards, and also require additional expenditures for mag-stripe or bar-code readers and, of course, a compute program to interpret and act on the stored data.

For small organizations or those who do not want to maintain cards themselves, our service bureau is able to print cards on demand for a small fee. Customers who print larger quantities of cards or who would like to be able to issue cards immediately may find that an investment in a printer and supplies is beneficial.

Adding bar-codes or mag-stripes to ID badges can be an excellent solution for organizations with modest incremental functional needs, and have only low to moderate security requirements. Both cards provide a means by which customers or patrons can recognize the authority of the person wearing the card and can provide a sense of visual cohesion in any work, school, or healthcare environment.

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