Opening doors to wearable devices and mobile credentials
Tim Compston, Features Editor at Security News Desk reports on moves through mobile credentials to unlock more opportunities for wearable devices and smartphones to be used for access control applications.
Things are certainly gathering pace when it comes to the world of access control and mobile credentials on smart devices, including wearables. A case in point is the fact that, back in April, NXP Semiconductors N.V. announced a strategic collaboration with HID Global. The main takeaway from this link-up is that the HID Global’s Seos credential technology is to be embedded in NXP’s SmartMX-based secure element devices. In practical terms, the two parties say that the aim is to enable the use of wearable devices to open electronic locks at commercial buildings, hotels, and workplaces. In addition, the companies confirm that they will be co-operating to expand the range of opportunities for this type of secure access.
Working with wearables
Moving ahead, the plan is that wearables manufacturers worldwide working with the Seos-ready NXP chips will be able to offer users functionality not only for building and parking access but also, significantly, for other things like: PC login, authentication to IT systems and cloud applications, secure print job collection, time and attendance, point of sale and automated cashless vending. It is planned that HID Global’s field programmers will support these ‘use cases’ in Seos-ready wearables by loading the digital credentials for specified applications.
Offering his thoughts on the landmark deal with NXP when it was first announced, Stefan Widing, President and CEO of HID Global said: “As the lines between personal and business use of devices continues to blur, the agreement with NXP marks an important step in HID Global’s commitment to extend options that allow manufacturers and end users to carry trusted identities on more smart devices for existing and emerging use cases.” Widing added that this step also reinforces the ‘interoperability and potential for mass-market adoption of Seos’ by major industry players who are seeking open standards-based technology that works in mixed technology environments.
For Sami Nassar, Vice President of Cyber Security Solutions at NXP Semiconductors the key message from this joint step is that: “Consumers should expect more from their smart phones and wearables.” Nassar is enthusiastic about how the strategic collaboration with HID is going to help to achieve this: “Through this partnership, and with the addition of Seos access onto NXP security elements, we have created a powerful turnkey solution enabling wearables to provide access to enterprise, buildings and homes with a simple ‘tap’. NXP customers and partners will have even more options in logical and physical access when embedding a secure element in wearable devices.”
Mobile credentials matter
Touching on some of the wider developments on the mobile credentials front with Daniel Bailin, Director of Strategic Business Development and Innovation at HID Global for physical access control, he sounds an optimistic note: “Mobile credentials – or what we would brand as HID Mobile Access – when referring to how we put credentials on a phone that can work with our readers – has been a runaway success. We launched that in Q3 of 2014 and it just continues to grow and grow.”
Bailin explains that HID Global’s initial solution is standalone: “It uses an HID app on the phone. We have our own portal for administrators to manage the process of registering the phone and then delivering a credential to that phone.”
In April of this year, according to Bailin, HID Global signalled its intention to broaden things out: “We announced that we were making software development kits – SDKs – commercially available to allow our partners to start to integrate that technology into their own environments. This means that however they issue badges today, perhaps using third party software, they can extend that functionality to support pushing a credential out to a phone. Likewise if they have their own app that runs on the phone they can integrate our technology into their app so that the users who are already using the app – for whatever activities they have going on – can also apply that app to open a door.”
Asked where HID Global’s approach to mobile credentials was first trialled, Bailin says that some of the earliest pilots actually happened in universities: “Universities, as you might imagine, are very open to trying new things. We also did several pilots in enterprises as well. Publically we have shown the work that we did with Netflix, for example, which is a very progressive employer in the San Francisco Bay area.”
From NFC to Bluetooth
In terms of any specific issues associated with bringing a viable mobile credentials solution to market, Bailin reckons that probably the biggest problem, which he stresses is well documented, came from trying to base a solution around NFC (Near Field Communication): “With regards to iPhones we, as a developer, did not have access to the NFC stack so we opted to switch over to focusing on Bluetooth which is available on just about any modern smartphone.” Bailin says that the reality is that you need a ‘common solution’ for it to be viable: “It isn’t really acceptable to come into your building as a security administrator – for a campus or enterprise – and say I have a solution that only works on A, B, and C phones but it doesn’t work on D, E and F phones, which happen to be half the phones in your population,” explains Bailin.
Beyond the ability to work universally, Bailin flags-up some additional advantages of going down the Bluetooth route: “Bluetooth supports a much longer read range than NFC does. NFC is limited to at most a few inches whereas with Bluetooth, in theory, you can get into many metres of distance. One of the nice use cases is parking access so, for instance, if you are pulling into your company garage and there is a snowstorm with NFC you have to wind the window down and stick your phone out the door, and present it right to the reader, something you don’t need to do with Bluetooth as you can tune that reader’s read range to be longer.”
Bailin goes on to say, when we talk about ‘mobility’, which he points out is actually the theme for HID Global this year, that there is still a tendency for people to immediately think of just smartphones: “That is natural, it is the biggest device in most of our lives in terms of what we carry around every day.” He explains that, going forward, it makes much more sense to include wearables, and any other smart devices, under this ‘mobility’ category.
He feels that the role of leading vendors like HID in our increasingly mobile world is to support personal choice: “Do you want to use your Apple Watch or your Android Wear device? Do you prefer to look at your watch for a quick glance at things rather than pulling your big phone out because phones have got much larger? We don’t actually need to choose the right answer as they can all be right answers based on people’s preferences.” Continuing on this theme, Bailin says that, at a practical level, HID has enhanced its Seos credential technology to run on any of these smart devices: “If you want to put it on a wearable device that you wear on your wrist that is fine. If you want to have it on your phone too that’s fine. If you only want to have it on one or not the other that is fine as well.”
To round things off, Bailin touches on the work that HID has just undertaken with NXP and the practical benefits: “This has enabled NXP to pre-configure their NFC chips to be Seos ready so when they are delivered to a wearable OEM and those devices then make it into the field the same equipment we use to program cards can load an HID credential on to that wearable device.”