The current exceptional situation is not only a challenge for the economy, the health care system, or the education system – everything is being questioned, and work environments need to adapt to the current Covid-19 outbreak and prepare us for any other future possible outbreaks.  
Technologies, which were considered state of the art and secure before the outbreak, are no longer suitable or safe. This is especially the case for access control systems. It is no longer conceivable that a fingerprint, a pin on a keyboard, or crowded queues are acceptable as access control measures.   
Especially companies and factories need to make sure their access solutions are safe for employees and can help to stop further outbreaks. Most companies and factories are already working with modern systems. However, these can additionally be upgraded to be even safer.  
Here are recommendations that you might want to examine when evaluating and adapting access systems for returning to a safe day at work.

1. Hands-free & contactless – as little interaction as possible to prevent contamination  

Hands-free and contactless solutions will be essential from now on. Therefore, access systems should be able to work hands-free and contactless. Upgrading your existing access system by implementing a mobile access feature will transform your current access system. A mobile access solution replaces keys, key cards, and touchpads with a smart device. Mobile access solutions enable secure communication between smart devices and entry points such as gates or access control readers. Users can then pass access points hands-free and without needing to interact.   
When upgrading your access system, you create a safer environment for everyone, while also making your employees feel more satisfied since they don't have to exert any effort when walking through a gate.   

2. People registration – know who is in and who is out   

The access system must be able to recognize who is in the building and who is not. This applies in particular to companies with a large personal environment. It must be ensured that employees are informed when an infection is reported in the company. At the same time, the employee’s privacy needs to be taken seriously.

3. Contact Tracing - an easy way to ensure anonymous and efficient communication  

For an even better evaluation and protection of the employees, a contact tracing system should be implemented. A contact tracing system gathers (in the ideal case, in an encrypted form) information on who passes checkpoints and stays in certain areas.  
In the case of a reported infection, the contact tracing system can evaluate which employees spent sufficient time in an affected area.  
This function can then provide a list of those team members which can, in turn, be notified, if a notifiable disease occurs.  

In summary, a contact tracing solution can prevent the complete lockdown of an entire office or factory. Still, the solution needs to be examined carefully, to make sure it doesn't harm the workforce's privacy more than it helps to keep them safe.

4. Limited work areas – to protect employees 

It is useful to only give those employees access to areas that are important for their work. This could prevent unnecessary contact and therefore further infections.   
Centralized access management can help with rapid implementation and sustainable maintenance.  

5. Traffic light systems - an electronic counting system to prevent crowded areas   

A traffic light system can be installed to keep areas safe. Traffic light systems count the number of people who enter a certain area. If a certain amount of people entered the room the traffic light at the entrance will turn red and signal that no other person can enter.   
Particularly supermarkets and factories could profit from the traffic light system to protect their employees, guests, and to combat the coronavirus.   

We already discussed the drawbacks of mechanical keys in our latest blog post, 6 reasons why your old key system is no longer good enough. Here’s the next step for you, here are the benefits of digital keys – or, more precisely, the benefits of the use of mobile digital keys as a secure and hands-free alternative.

Integration: Digital key systems are very easily integrable into existing locks and access systems. There is no need to swap an existing access system or face horrendous costs since the subsequent upgrade of the current access systems is easily possible. Technologies and hardware can be integrated into the access solutions and enable the communication between gates and smart devices.

Control: Losing your keys equals to a small-scale loss of control. It is a stressful situation. You don’t know where you last saw them, and you don’t know how to get them back, you don’t know whether somebody took them and now has access to your building, or whether you just misplaced them and everything is fine. By having a digital key solution, you are keeping all your keys on the phone. With this, you have a better chance of locating your misplaced key by only using the phone’s inbuilt phone finder or just calling the phone. You’ll instantly realize whether the phone is somewhere in your house or office. Should your phone have been stolen – you can easily block the access authorizations remotely.

Convenience: Digital keys pose a great comfort. After switching to digital keys, there is no need to carry around a physical keyring with multiple keys attached. All your keys will be on your smart device, so you’ll never spend minutes on end searching for the right key. Coming home after having gone to the grocery store with the bags of supplies stacked in a volatile balance, we all wish for the door to just open “magically.” With a hands-free digital access system, this dream can come true.

Efficiency: Are you late to a meeting and still need to pass the access gates? Is it pouring rain, and you can’t wait to get into your house? With a digital key system, you will reach your destination in no time, thanks to the Bluetooth Low Energy used in most digital systems. Bluetooth Low Energy enables fast and secure communication between smart devices and access points and lets you without a hitch.

Security: Of course, efficiency and convenience should not come at the cost of security. And with a digital key system, these concepts are not mutually exclusive, on the contrary. Your building manager will find that supervising and granting/revoking access control has never been easier. They are always up to date on who can enter which regions and, if need be, can allow and disallow access to restricted areas in seconds. Furthermore, you know that the person entering the building is indeed the person the key belongs to since a digital key cannot be easily passed on. A digital key is bound to the respective person and additionally protected by the phone’s security measures, such as touch ID or face ID.

Experience: When entering the office hands-free, the day has already started right, and your mood is soaring. Everything is going smoothly, and you can’t wait for the day to continue. On the other hand, if you can’t find your key or key card, the access point won’t let you in on the first try, and you have to swipe the badge/insert your key repeatedly, you get frustrated. The day starts in a lousy way, putting you in a bad mood and affecting not only you but also your work and coworkers. Sure, the experience might not be everything, but it undoubtedly plays an essential role in how we perceive everyday life. With a digital key solution, the phone in your bag already communicates with the access points shortly before you need to pass through them, allowing for a smooth procedure!

Or how we became an experience company

The idea for SEAMLESSme first came up in 2014, when the Hasso-Plattner Institute in Potsdam revealed the extent of password fraud. Five years later, in 2019, SEAMLESSme was ready to become neXenio's third product. Patrick Hennig, one of the founders of neXenio, sat down to tell the whole story.

In 2014, the service "Identity Leak Checker" was presented by the Hasso-Plattner-Institut in Potsdam. Based on almost 10 billion leaked identity records, users can check their email address to see if their login to an account has been compromised. With this huge set of passwords, Prof. Dr. Christoph Meinel's research group showed that almost 1 per mil of these identities used "123456" as their password.

Back then, Philipp Berger and I were working as research assistants in Prof. Meinel’s research group at HPI. Based on the findings on password security, we started looking into secure, but at the same time more convenient, alternatives to passwords. Together with Dr. Maxim Schnjakin, an HPI alumnus, and Bundesdruckerei, we initiated a bachelor project for our students to demonstrate the feasibility of wearables for authentication. Wearables offer two essential features that can be used for our mission:

  1. With the technical progress of smartphones, most of the wearables currently in use offer the sensor and Bluetooth technology that forms the backbone of our idea.
  2. Wearables, especially smartphones, have become one of the most important assets in people’s lifes.

The Bachelor project’s outcome paved the way for using sensor data from mobile devices for authentication of individuals. In the meantime, Philipp and I had founded neXenio. Our goal was – and still is – to enable the business world to benefit from cutting-edge research on data security, analysis, and virtual collaboration. That’s why we formed a special unit at neXenio to build a prototype capable of enhancing a smartphone with the intelligence to know if it‘s being used by the intended person. After mastering a number of complex technical challenges regarding security and communication protocols and after exchanging information with various potential customers, neXenio 2019 was able to deliver the first proof of value.

Challenges along the way

The main challenge was our own demand for data security and privacy: All sensor data remain on the device itself, which is why the technologies used have to operate with limited computing power and low battery consumption. This places very high demands on the algorithms that analyze and detect the movement of the human body.

In addition, various data transmission technologies and protocols had to be evaluated in order to provide a reliable and secure communication channel between smartphones and counterparts such as speed gates, doors or industrial machinery.
"WeQ is better than IQ" neXenio works under this maxim and builds through partnerships. For example, the cooperation with the group of Prof. Marian Magraf at Fraunhofer AISEC fosters the security of the Bluetooth connection as it requires new ideas to overcome the Bluetooth protocol limitations. Another partner is Prof. Roland Müller from HWR who established together with neXenio a research project to make the sensor analysis more reliable.

In order to be fully convenient, authentication needed to become something that happens in the background, without the user even noticing the actual process. Along with insights we gathered around communication protocols, SEAMLESSme became truly hands-free. The unit at neXenio learned quickly that this seamless technology, sending a signal anytime anywhere, can provide a whole new level of personalized user experience to our everyday life. When it comes to smart manufacturing, documentation can be done completely automatically. While traveling, check-ins at airports or hotels can work hands-free. Or imagine a café that starts preparing your favorite coffee as soon as you enter the shop.

That's where we learned that a key benefit of our solution is that it creates an exceptional user experience. Initially, we concentrated entirely on security. Due to our research background, the steps our technology had to go through were guided by security and privacy needs. And of course, this is still the foundation of our technology. But now that we've achieved these objectives, we can focus on creating the best user experience. With the technical platform we’ve built, security and user experience can work hand in hand naturally.

It’s our goal to create a secure and convenient way to identify users. Wherever they need to authenticate themselves. 2020 will be the year where we enter the market with our first use case – access control. We start at the entrance, where employees, guests and visitors feel a border every day - while you actually want them to feel welcome.

- and why this doesn't come as a surprise for an Office Manager

With companies around the world working from home these days, conference calls, cloud solutions and chat tools are helped a great deal making sure collaboration doesn’t suffer. And that’s why most members of the SEAMLESSᵐᵉ team, in order to flatten the curve, were able to clean up their desks and dining tables at home and have been working from home for the last weeks.

After some days of absence, we’ve asked our coworkers what they miss most when working from home – and compared the answers to the experience of our Office Manager, Lena, who knows best about what secretly keeps the office running. And while we feel strongly about the importance of staying home (and appreciate how well we actually can work from home), we look forward to returning to our office. Here’s why.

Luckily enough, with the right tools, it’s possible to work remotely in the tech industry

It’s not performance that’s bothering our coworkers. There’s clear evidence for how home office and flexible working hours can even help to increase the productivity of office workers. Still, it did come as a surprise for many of us – we’re used to sitting close to each other, debating over our tasks and next steps for our product. But we quickly came up with new virtual formats to close this gap.

Office experience, on the other hand, can’t fully be replaced virtually.

The SEAMLESSme team is quite spoiled when it comes to office culture – and we’re perfectly aware of it! Usually you’ll find around 50 people in our open space office. It’s right at the center of Berlin, with a scenic view over the rooftops of Germany’s capital. People like to spend their time here, come in for a coffee before working hours. Therefore, when being asked, most of us wouldn’t choose a permanent remote work situation.

Thus, the most common answer when asked what’s missing at home matches previous research and findings: It’s the human interaction that can’t fully be replaced online. This is exactly what Lena, our Office Manager, guessed as well: „We do have a very friendship-like atmosphere here that is really special. People will miss the little chats now and then, as well as the lunch breaks with their teams.“

It’s the little things you’ll miss only when you can’t get them.

What else keeps the office running? “MATE!“ Lena says, and laughs. The caffeinated mate beverage is „the most important little thing. If that’s gone, I will learn about it immediately during ordinary office days.“ Second she names “Table tennis and foosball“. And she’s right – once we started to get creative to keep in touch with colleagues via virtual coffee breaks or even board game nights, it’s the little things that are missed the most. For some it’s the great burrito place next door, for others the coffee maker, for many it’s the little breaks playing table tennis or foosball.
What can we take away from this? Probably to value even more, what we have. Times like these show more vividly than ever, that it’s about creating an atmosphere, where people like to work. A place where they actually want to go to in the morning, and where they’re looking forward to returning to right now.

The key. Essential. Unique. Universal. A centuries-old symbol for access and status. It is our access to the physical places in our personal and professional lives. We quite literally never leave home without it. Every day we open and close locks with different keys, key cards and fobs. We use locks as a device to allow and deny access to selected persons to certain areas, vaults or objects. Yet, if one looks closer, the outdatedness and limitations of the key industrial-complex become quickly evident.

Although we use keys on a daily basis to protect our most precious information, objects and spaces, we do not question whether keys are secure in the first place. We have become too accustomed to question the security aspect of this ancient system.

Companies in particular need to consider whether their access key management meets their security requirements or whether an update is needed. Here are 6 reasons why your traditional key system is the next system in dire need of an upgrade – because it is potentially a threat to you and your company.

1. An analog solution for a digital world: The Lost key

Let’s face it. We have all had that embarrassing moment where we have misplaced a key. We have traveled down to the office management office located in some obscure part of the basement of your office building and embarrassingly gone through the process of getting a new one. “I lost my key.” Dreaded words. In 2020, it is very easy to lose or misplace keys. That is not only annoying, but can be very costly for the company and a hit to productivity for the employee.

2. The Invisible Security Threat: The Weaponized Key 

If a lost key is discovered too late, serious problems may already have occurred. Theft, unauthorized entry or a duplication of the key. If keys are lost, the insurance is not liable. Therefore, any damage incurred must be paid for by yourself. Moreover, lost keys are often not displayed and reported out of shame, which poses a high security risk especially for companies.

3. Identity Theft: The Duplicated Key

The duplication of keys poses a very high security risk and is one of the greatest weakness for most access control systems. Especially as it is very simple to duplicate keys. Even if keys are returned, one cannot assume that no copy was made. Companies must always fear that former employees still have access to office spaces. But not only traditional keys are at stake, key cards and key fobs can also be duplicated. With detailed instruction on the internet, various apps for mobile phones, anyone can try their luck to copy and duplicate key cards and fobs.

4. Systems without Scale: The Limited Key

The locking plan for a key based access management is created manually, for example in an excel spreadsheet, and must be adjusted whenever changes are made. Changes are not implemented in real time. Access systems based on keys are very uncontrollable and are a poor representation of real-time.

5. Cost and Time: The Expensive Key 

As security requirements increase, so does the cost of conventional key systems. New locks and keys need to be installed, exchanged, duplicated or withdrawn. Furthermore, access authorizations must be redefined and adapted. This can be very time consuming, expensive and exhausting.

6. The Convenience Factor: The Key as Experience 

Keys are annoying and inconvenient. In the age of digitization, one can ask why this outdated system has not yet been revised. It should be possible to use modern technology to create more secure and simplified experiences.

To sum up old metal key systems are outdated, a security risk and need a serious make-over. Fortunately, new digital solutions offer a more secure and convenient experience. Locks and keys can be integrated or exchanged with mobile solutions. Both companies and individuals can benefit from this.

Mobile access offers a simple, comprehensive control management with real-time visualization of current logins and authorizations. With digital solutions it is possible to create a more secure and transparent environment. Companies benefit from keeping the workplace safe from unauthorized access. As a result, office equipment and employee’s property are more secure which ensures smooth business operations.

At our office we have one golden rule (actually we have a couple, but this is the only one that is truly relevant!): if a colleague is able to access your PC because you left it unlocked, tough luck, you're bringing cake for the whole office the next day.

Although the imminent threat of having to bake cake should not be the underlying motivation for you to keep your laptop locked, people might have an even more relaxed approach to the subject of security while working from home. You're at home, why should you need to take any precautions? I mean, no one can order cake, so all is fine.

Well, yes, but actually no.

Why security matters

First, security is not a matter of "I don't want to be punished, so I will abide to the security rules". One must understand that you are not adhering to security rules for other people's or the company's sake, but for your own, too. It is important to internalize the value of security and personal data. You need to start thinking that you are keeping the data safe not for others, but for you. A lot of people tend to act negligently when it comes to handling sensitive information, which can have very severe repercussions

This is not necessarily exclusive to work related data, which, were it to be stolen or compromised, might lead to big financial problems to the company, but also extends to personal data. Identity theft has become more and more of an issue, due to the way many people carelessly handle their personal data online, thinking "what good is my birthday to those people anyways, many more people share the same birthdate". On its own it might not amount to much but accumulating little bits and pieces of information on a person quickly reveals the big picture, making you more transparent than you would ever have thought.

How to keep your data safe

Second, even though home might seem the most secure place to you, there are still various threats lurking in places unbeknownst to you. Your neighbor might be a super hacker, just waiting to pounce onto your information (too absurd?) or your Achille's heel might be your beloved morning coffee/tea. How so? Accidentally hit the mug with your elbow and all the work you did these past couple of weeks is gone. Backups are especially crucial in times of remote work, because you must remind yourself to do them regularly. You also have to decide which is the most efficient but also secure way for you to back your data up. There are various solutions, you could either secure the data via an encrypted external hard drive or opt for a cloud storage solution. To not grant an unwelcome access to your data via your network connection, ask your employer to set up a VPN network. This way, you can use the VPN to gain access to your secure office network without having to physically go to the office

Care for analogue data too!

Third, do not forget that analogue and digital security are equally relevant, even at home. Only because you have got a VPN network set up and the access to your PC is protected by a password, it doesn't mean you are adequately protected, if you leave papers with sensitive information lying around in the open. It is essential to store sensitive data in lockable containers, where it is not openly accessible for anyone and everyone.

Stay safe everyone, not only physically but also in regard to your data!