05 Nov 2012

Barcode vs Magnetic strip – Which is the Best Option for an ID Card

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If you’re reading this blog you know doubt believe like we do that security is an absolute priority for every organization from SME’s and schools to universities, hospitals and large corporations. Issuing staff, students and clients with their own personal ID card is one practical solution to helping maintain a secure facility. For many years now, features such as barcodes and magstripes have been added to cards in order to improve their overall performance. But just how important are they in the general security scheme of things and is it ever worth going without?

The Benefits of Barcodes

Barcodes have been in use for well over 30 years now. They have the ability to encode text which can only be read by a scanner and because there are over 20 different types of barcodes, this makes them very versatile for a wide range of purposes.

One of the main advantages of having an ID card with a barcode is that it can be scanned extremely quickly to identify the user. Using this method avoids delays at check-in points, increases accuracy levels and decreases input errors. ID cards which have a barcode are far less likely to be forged and a scanning device will immediately identify a card which has any inconsistencies. This helps to prevent any intruders from getting access to a building. Although barcodes are a relatively simple concept, they continue to be used because they offer an effective way to increase the security of an ID card.

The Benefits of Magstripes

Since the 1960s, Magstripes have been used along the back of credit and debit cards. A magstripe is the thin black line which can be seen along the back of a card and is there because it contains information about the card holder. In a sense, it’s similar to an audio tape because it modifies the magnetism of the black band to encode information more securely.

ID cards featuring Magstripes are very popular in places such as libraries and gyms due to the fact that their fast swipe method allows easy access for customers and staff alike. Cards featuring a magstripe can only be read by a dedicated reader so they are secure although they do have downsides. Magstripes can be easily damaged or erased when they come into contact with magnets so they are not as reliable as a barcode.

There are 2 different types of magnetic stripes, a high coercivity (Hi-Co) and a low coercivity (Lo-Co). A Hi-Co magstripe has been designed for more permanent applications because the stripe has a stronger magnetic hold which won’t erase as easily. So for larger businesses such as universities and hospitals, Hi-Co would be added to ID cards. Lo-Co stripes are generally used for applications where a business would typically re-use the card in order to encode new information multiple times.

It is difficult to forge an ID card with a magstripe because a forger would need to be in possession of a magnetic encoder rather than a basic printer. Although an ID card with a magstripe does add an extra layer of security, there are a few limitations because of the technology involved.

Given all of the information regarding barcodes and Magstripes, it can be concluded that barcodes are the best option for adding an extra element of security to ID cards. They are more durable and difficult to forge than a magstripe card so this gives them the edge for security.

What has been your experience? Which do you use to secure your facility? Please comment below and share your opinions.

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