Unlocking a Secure & Seamless Campus: Key Considerations for Mobile Student IDs

Unlocking a Secure & Seamless Campus: Key Considerations for Mobile Student IDs

Can you imagine a day without your mobile phone? Most of us have done away with traditional alarm clocks and physical calendars in favor of mobile alternatives, replaced unnecessary in-person meetings with efficient video calls and so much more. Mobile phones are an integral part of our daily lives, especially with the tech-savvy majority that makes up the campus population.

Based on recent trends, it’s easy to see why mobile devices are starting to shape the different systems we use not only to connect with people, but also to manage campus experiences at large. To keep pace with the security landscape across campuses, universities are evaluating mobile credentials to enhance their security and streamline their student experience. This evolution starts with saying goodbye to the days of outdated, proprietary technology and welcoming in interoperable solutions that are flexible to change with the institution’s evolving security needs.

Enabling a Contactless Campus

While the transition to mobile student IDs has been happening for years, the pandemic further illuminated the benefits of a contactless campus. Many security directors and card office administrators have been contemplating the value of investing in smart cards or mobile student IDs. Mobile IDs offer the same contactless and security benefits as smart cards, plus they can be remotely deployed to avoid in-person contact. This digital adoption also helps alleviate long lines at the card office around orientation.

With seamless convenience in mind, students need only to present their mobile device or campus card in the RF field emitted by the reader for building access, dining, library transactions and more. They don’t need to hand over their credentials to a cashier to swipe or touch any objects. Nor do they have to swipe the magnetic stripe on their card—where they are essentially rubbing their hands on readers that have been touched by many others.

Mobile credentials also enable contact tracing, which is a core control measure and key strategy for interrupting chains of transmission for various diseases and viruses, including COVID-19. Actions taken today will better prepare campuses for future public health crises. Many are already incorporating lessons learned during this pandemic into their emergency preparedness plans.

Enhancing Student Mobile IDs Across Platforms

Most mobile student IDs are available on Android mobile devices and iPhones, for holistic access. This technology is now available from your wrist and is designed to become second nature for users. For instance, in partnership with technology provider CBORD, Allegion announced mobile credential support for student ID cards in Apple Wallet, which allows students to access their ID using their Apple Watch.

Additionally, Auburn University debuted their new Tiger Card in August 2021 with the goal of enhancing the student experience. The campus-issued mobile ID offers an added level of convenience and accessibility, and it can be used anywhere a plastic ID card is used, both on and off campus. Once provisioned, users simply present an iPhone, Apple Watch or Android phone to NFC-enabled devices to pay for food, vending or laundry, or to open exterior and interior doors to campus buildings and residence halls.

Adoption Among Campus Administration & Students

Apart from the convenient access to campus card activity, contactless credentials can also be instantly and remotely issued, revoked or reactivated, offering additional control and fraud protection for university administration.

The transition to mobile cards also allows campuses to gain operational efficiencies, like a significant reduction in plastic cards. Through mobile credentials, campus administrators avoid the hassle and expense of issuing thousands of physical cards and replacing them if stolen.

The majority of students are digitally native and are accustomed to using the latest technologies. Take contactless mobile payments as an example—in-store mobile payments grew 29% in 2020, especially as consumers favored touchless technology over their cash and cards. Additionally, phones and smart watches are valued personal property; thus, they are much less likely to be misplaced, unlike campus plastic cards and physical keys.

The benefits can be seen from campus to campus. For example, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville implemented their mobile VolCard in October 2019 for nearly 29,000 students across 294 buildings on the 910-acre campus. The university is now two years into its mobile program and has more than 20,000 mobile credentials deployed on campus with students, faculty and staff. On average, the university sees tens of thousands of access and financial transactions per day, and more than 80% of those are happening with mobile devices versus plastic cards. Campus adoption has been strong, and administrators have received positive feedback from those using the solution.

Evaluating the Best Credential Solution

A fundamental criterion is looking for solutions that are secure—after all, security and student safety are at the core of access control. Mobile credentials using MIFARE® DESFire® technology offer encrypted security, which can protect against unwanted duplication. Encryption protects the data being relayed between the reader and credential by essentially taking the information in the chip of the credential, shredding it apart, sending it to the reader and putting it back together. Because proximity and magnetic stripe cards are unencrypted, upgrading from one of these legacy technologies to mobile credentials can significantly improve security across campus. 

Additionally, consider future proofing. The interoperability of the credential technology is important to your future choices in hardware and software. Regardless of the technology you choose, it’s important to pick a secure platform with open architecture.

How to Get Started

Implementation will look different for every campus, and it can be customized based on the hardware and technology in place—as well as the interoperability of solutions. Each campus has different security needs and different pain points. To move forward, it’s important for campus security directors to consider every single way a student uses a card on campus. Entering the dining hall, accessing the fitness center, opening residence hall doors—all of it needs to be documented from the get-go, to ensure the rest of the implementation process goes smoothly.

The CATcard Service Center, which oversees the card services for the University of Vermont, implemented mobile credentials in the fall of 2019. In the past they had problems with students easily reproducing cards for residence halls and needed a solution that was more secure and not as easily duplicated. To implement the mobile solution using Apple Wallet, the team developed a plan to achieve a 100% use case, which means that anywhere a student could use a physical student ID card, they need to be able to use their mobile credential. While the implementation seemed like an overwhelming challenge at first, the convenience it ultimately brought the campus population made adoption a breeze. They were able to build the case and implement a seamless student experience, setting a favorable precedent that will shape future decisions as the city advances.

It’s important to consider your college or university’s needs to develop a plan for migrating to new, more secure credential technologies and understand all the options available to your school. The way I see it, mobile should be the end-game. If your university isn’t ready for mobile, upgrade to smart cards first. This is a common path that will steer your campus in the right direction for years to come.

This article originally appeared in the January / February 2022 issue of Campus Security Today.