Icons connected by glowing lines represent different devices in an access control system communicating with each other.

Why OSDP Has Become Access Control’s International Communication Standard

The Open Supervised Device Protocol (OSDP) is an access control communication standard developed by the Security Industry Association (SIA) to facilitate secure communication between access control systems. In this post, we take a brief look at what the standard is, why it was created, and its most important features and applications.

The Wiegand Protocols: How Early Access Control Fell Short

Standards are fundamental to ensuring that technologies designed and manufactured by different companies in different parts of the world are able to successfully communicate and integrate with each other. However, unless they have been designed to evolve and adapt alongside advancements and exterior threats, the widespread adoption of a standard can result in widespread vulnerabilities.

Such is the case with the Clock-and-Data and Wiegand protocols used by access control systems to send information from card readers to controllers. First introduced in the 1980s, these were heavily adopted by the industry, and they remain prevalent decades later. In fact, 90% of existing physical access control systems (PACS) still rely on the Wiegand protocol.

The problem? Wiegand is unencrypted and therefore easily hackable. It poses distance limitations and scalability constraints, and only allows one-way communication — preventing audio/visual control, configuration changes and other critical updates. 

What is OSDP? Developing a “Living” International Standard

In 2008, the Open Supervised Device Protocol (OSDP) access control communications standard was created to improve interoperability among access control and security products and donated to the Security Industry Association (SIA), a not-for-profit trade organization. 

In May 2020, OSDP was approved as an international standard by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC 60839-11-5), and in December of the same year, SIA OSDP v2.2 was released based on the IEC 60839-11-5 standard. SIA continues to refine and update the standard to maintain maximum flexibility and to keep ahead of evolving security threats. 

Common Applications: Where is OSDP Making a Difference? 

OSDP is critical where secure and advanced communication between access control devices matters most. Because the standard facilitates secure and bi-directional communication, it has versatile application across a diverse set of access control applications.

6 Key Features of OSDP

What are the biggest features of OSDP? More importantly, what separates them from the Wiegand protocols? Let’s take a closer look.

#1: Standardization
OSDP is an open and standardized protocol, facilitating interoperability between devices from different manufacturers. This promotes a more open and competitive market for access control solutions.

#2: Security
OSDP enhances security by using advanced encryption and authentication methods, reducing the risk of unauthorized access and tampering.

#3: Bi-Directional Communication
Unlike the Wiegand protocol, OSDP allows for bi-directional communication between the reader and control panel. This enables more robust data exchange, including the ability to confirm successful card reads and receive status updates from the devices.

#4: Increased Range
OSDP supports longer communication distances compared to Wiegand, making it suitable for larger and more complex access control systems.

#5: Tamper Detection
The protocol includes features for detecting tampering or unauthorized access to the communication line, improving the overall security of the system.

#6: Support for Smart Cards
OSDP is designed to work with smart cards, allowing for more advanced authentication methods beyond traditional proximity cards. To learn about the full benefits of OSDP , check out our eBook, Demystifying OSDP >>

What Are the OSDP Profiles?

OSDP profiles define specific configurations and functionalities within the standard. Each one allows manufacturers to implement specific functionalities based on the requirements of the access control system. 

Basic Profile
Devices adhering to the Basic profile serve as replacements for Wiegand-based systems. They offer the advantages of a bidirectional protocol, providing supervision benefits that guard against common person-in-the-middle attacks.

Secure Profile
Devices compliant with the Secure profile not only meet the requirements of the Basic profile but also possess the capability to handle encrypted messages using the Secure channel. They can seamlessly transition between Basic and Secure modes as needed, enhancing overall security.

Smart Card Profile
Devices designed to the Smart Card profile are equipped to facilitate the transfer of structured data units essential for smart card operations. This capability makes them suitable for deployment in environments such as Federal Identity, Credential and Access Management (FICAM), and Personal Identity Verification (PIV) systems, among others.

Biometric Profile
Devices aligned with the Biometric profile leverage OSDP messages to read and match biometric templates. This profile enables the integration of biometric authentication methods, offering advanced security features within the OSDP standard.

Implementing OSDP: Best Practices & Basic Steps

Implementing OSDP and/or transitioning from Wiegand involves several steps to ensure a smooth and secure integration. Specific practices will vary based on the devices and system architecture involved, so be sure to work with an expert at every stage.

Needs Assessment
Evaluate your current access control system and identify devices using the Wiegand protocol. Determine the OSDP profiles needed based on your security requirements.

Replacement Planning
Plan for a phased approach to replace Wiegand devices with OSDP-compatible devices. Begin with a pilot installation in a limited area to identify and address any issues.

Selecting OSDP-Compatible Devices
Choose OSDP-compliant card readers, controllers, and other access control devices from reputable manufacturers.

Installing & Configuring OSDP Devices
Install OSDP devices at entry points and other relevant locations. Configure OSDP devices to the desired profiles and settings.

Wiring & Connection
Replace existing Wiegand wiring with OSDP-compatible wiring if necessary. Connect OSDP devices to the access control system, ensuring proper termination and connectivity.

Programming & Integration
Program OSDP devices to communicate with the access control system. Integrate OSDP devices with the central access control software.

Testing the System
Conduct thorough testing of OSDP devices to ensure proper communication and functionality. Verify that the access control system accurately processes OSDP commands.

Training Your Team
Train security personnel on the new OSDP system, including any changes in operation and troubleshooting procedures.

Higher Flexibility, Functionality and Security — Just for Starters

The best way to ensure that your next access control project will support the greatest range of devices, readers and credentials starts with specifying OSDP. Implementing OSDP will provide a host of benefits, from interoperability and security to customer support readiness and end user experience. 

To learn about the full benefits of OSDP (beyond interoperability), check out our eBook, Demystifying OSDP >>

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