Mobile credentials: the marriage of convenience and security

Building made of glass - office security using mobile credentials

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Scott Elliott, Gallagher Security’s Executive Vice President – the Americas explains how the evolution of mobile credentials is making it possible for offices to gain a return on investment while fortifying cybersecurity.

In the workplace

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t just shake the norms of workplace culture when it accelerated the prevalence of remote and hybrid work – it also ushered in a new age of safety efforts and further entrenched security into an office setting.

Four years later as employers prioritize a return to the office, many are faced with an access control system that isn’t quite meeting these new security standards.

Further complicating the situation is the rise of cyber-physical attacks and the increasing business necessity for office employees to practice effective cyber hygiene, which, although worthwhile, comes with significant hurdles regarding training and cooperation.

For many offices, the situation may seem like the perfect storm of complex needs and problems without a clear solution, but the answer may already be tucked away in every employee’s pocket, purse or bag.

The mobile credential solution

Safer than traditional keys and more convenient than ID cards, mobile credentials stored on smartphones provide a simple, yet effective, solution to the office security needs of today and tomorrow.

It’s predicted that smartphone ownership in the US will rise from 312 million users in 2023 to an estimated 364 million by 2040 (Statista), by which time Generation Z and Mmillennials (the biggest smartphone demographics) will make up the majority of the workforce (PwC).

While mobile credentials aren’t particularly new, their capabilities are continually expanding to provide offices with more and more benefits each year.

In fact, according to Gallagher Security’s Industry Trends Report, mobile credentials are among the top prioritizations for security channel partners and consultants in 2024, with an overwhelming majority citing them as an increasingly important feature of modern systems.

This is for good reason: they’re a versatile tool that leverages familiarity and ease of use against the potential for user error to create a more secure office environment well prepared for growth and change.

Delivering a premium employee experience

Whether it be a digital wallet or via a dedicated app, mobile credentials help businesses deliver a truly premium office experience that goes beyond the hype of ping pong tables or happy hours to offer real value to staff.

Stark Property, which manages private offices and shared workspaces for over 40 companies, is proof of how mobile credentials can create a seamless, positive staff experience.

Employees throughout Stark Property’s locations use their mobile credentials to access buildings, private offices and shared meeting rooms through a customized app that serves as a hub for their credentials, plus a lot more.

Through their mobile credentials app, staff can submit maintenance requests directly to Stark Property, including the ability to enter detailed descriptions with attached photos.

“Now tenants can keep an eye out for any issues and report these to us directly,” said Matt Stark, Director of Stark Property.

“It has helped us to streamline our processes and keep on top of any issues.”

Their mobile credential app also mitigates communication problems with a newsfeed that notifies tenants of updates like building maintenance or fire alarm testing, keeping tenants up to date with important information displayed prominently whenever they open the app.

As their mobile credentials are integrated with other building functionalities, like Wi-Fi access and the ability to book shared meeting rooms, employees have one simplified hub for navigating routine office tasks.

As an added benefit, it’s also fostered a sense of community within the shared workspaces as everyone equally contributes to the efficiency of daily office life.

“Overall, our mobile credentials app has saved us time, made lives easier and allows us to keep progressing as a property group by delivering better, more efficient spaces,” Matt concluded.

A more secure business

Office staff aren’t the only ones benefiting from the efficiencies powered by mobile credentials.

The burden of administrative tasks can also be lifted from businesses through the innate flexibility created by mobile credentials that create a more secure setting.

One such routine task is credential maintenance, which typically requires time-consuming manual input but can be dramatically simplified – and managed remotely – at the click of a button with mobile credentials.

For example, each time an employee leaves the company their mobile credentials can be instantly revoked, eliminating the risk of unauthorized access to the office and building in real time.

This ability is especially useful for managing temporary contractors, visitors or employees in transition, or for geographically dispersed organizations where a physical office presence may not always be feasible.

To that end, traditional keys and access cards can be easily lost or stolen, compromising the security of an entire office.

As mobile credentials are stored securely on an employee’s smartphone (which is less likely to be misplaced) the burden of reissuing lost cards can be reduced to zero.

However, if a phone does go missing or is stolen, remotely deactivating the employee’s credentials is a quick and easy fix.

Additionally, many mobile credential systems support multi-factor authentication (MFA), adding an extra layer of security beyond a simple PIN or biometric verification.

MFA can involve combinations of factors such as passwords, biometrics and device authentication, making it significantly more difficult for unauthorized individuals to gain access.

The system can be encrypted and authenticated through secure protocols, making mobile credentials harder to clone or manipulate.

As most smartphone providers have their own built-in operating system protections, the layers of security stack up to fortify employees’ devices beyond the basics.

The ease of use and familiarity of mobile devices also encourages higher adoption rates among employees, leading to better compliance with security protocols.

Some businesses may be deterred from making the switch away from physical keycards because they don’t want to lose the integration benefits of their current system, but because mobile credentials seamlessly integrate with existing access control and corporate security systems, those fears can be assuaged.

Surveillance cameras, alarm systems and identity management platforms can be integrated to produce a more comprehensive security infrastructure, allowing for centralized monitoring and rapid response to security events.

Additional security features such as geofencing or time-based access control enable businesses to restrict certain areas of the office based on the employee’s location, division or the time of day.

In an emergency, mobile credentials can be used to check in at muster points to ensure everyone is safely accounted for should a building evacuation occur, offering peace of mind for everyone.

Proving return on investment through data

One of the most overlooked benefits of mobile credentials is the return on investment they yield for businesses.

Without the need to purchase access cards, card printers and ink, the cost savings can be significant, especially for offices with many visitors, temp workers or replacement cards reissued.

Additionally, multiple IDs can be stored in the mobile credentials app, granting employees access to multi-building sites, offices in other cities, parking garages or public spaces within the building, like a gym or spa – all from one location on their mobile device.

Perhaps more importantly, with the ability to generate detailed audit trails and reporting capabilities, administrators gain a bird’s eye view of office movements and behaviors through data.

Detailed audit trails, such as access attempts, successful entries and failed authentication attempts, provide invaluable data for monitoring security incidents, investigating breaches and for businesses operating under strict regulatory bodies, like medical or legal offices, ensuring compliance with requirements such as HIPAA.

Beyond security and compliance, access patterns revealed through reporting data can be used to optimize workspaces, improve the employee experience and even enhance productivity.

Entrance bottlenecks can be relieved by analyzing peak arrival and departure times so businesses can adjust staffing levels and coordinate smoother hours of operation.

Office configurations can be improved by monitoring occupancy and space utilization data to better understand how rooms are being used.

Energy consumption can be reduced by integrating with building automation systems to adjust lighting, heating and cooling based on occupation data, reducing costs and contributing to sustainability efforts – as well as so much more.

The marriage of convenience and security

The reality of office life is that both physical and cybersecurity protections are going to become more and more critical as the threat of complex breaches grows.

Yet, the solution to protect against those threats must be easy to use and convenient to ensure a workforce prone to poor cyber hygiene is consistently compliant.

Mobile credentials tick all the boxes and with a built-in gateway to additional features, integrations and benefits, it’s the solution that will keep on delivering benefits for years to come.

This article was originally published in the March edition of Security Journal Americas. To read your FREE digital edition, click here.

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