All biometric readers work similarly, by comparing the template stored in memory to the scan obtained during the process of identification. If there is a high enough degree of probability that the template in the memory is compatible with the live scan (the scan belongs to the authorized person), the ID number of that person is sent to a control panel. The control panel then checks the permission level of the user and determines whether access should be allowed. The communication between the reader and the control panel is usually transmitted using the industry standard Wiegand interface. The only exception is the intelligent biometric reader, which does not require any panels and directly controls all door hardware.
In the 1-to-1 mode a user must first either present an ID card or enter a PIN. The reader then looks up the template of the corresponding user in the database and compares it with the live scan. The 1-to-1 method is considered more secure and is generally faster as the reader needs to perform only one comparison. Most 1-to-1 biometric readers are "dual-technology" readers: they either have a built-in proximity, smart card or keypad reader, or they have an input for connecting an external card reader.
The difference between the two types of smart cards is the manner with which the microprocessor on the card communicates with the outside world. A contact smart card has eight contact points, which must physically touch the contacts on the reader to convey information between them. Since contact cards must be inserted into readers carefully in the proper orientation, the speed and convenience of such a transaction is not acceptable for most access control applications. The use of contact smart cards as physical access control is limited mostly to parking applications when payment data is stored in card memory, and when the speed of transactions is not as important.
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Biometric templates may be stored in the memory of readers, limiting the number of users by the reader memory size (there are reader models that have been manufactured with a storage capacity of up to 50,000 templates). User templates may also be stored in the memory of the smart card, thereby removing all limits to the number of system users (finger-only identification is not possible with this technology), or a central server PC can act as the template host. For systems where a central server is employed, known as "server-based verification", readers first read the biometric data of the user and then forward it to the main computer for processing. Server-based systems support a large number of users but are dependent on the reliability of the central server, as well as communication lines.
There are several forms of biometric identification employed in access control: fingerprint, hand geometry, iris, Voice Recognition, and facial recognition. Biometric technology has been promoted for its ability to significantly increase the security level of systems. Proponents claim that the technology eliminates such problems as lost, stolen or loaned ID cards and forgotten PINs.
There are two types of smart cards: contact and contactless. Both have an embedded microprocessor and memory. The smart card differs from the proximity card in that the microchip in the proximity card has only one function: to provide the reader with the card's identification number. The processor on the smart card has an embedded operating system and can handle multiple applications such as a cash card, a pre-paid membership card, or an access control card.