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LEAF on campus: An open standard for access control and identity management

Credential protocol supports interoperability within the campus access control market

Contributor   ||   Feb 02, 2023  ||   ,

By Sean Houchin, product manager, ELATEC

Campuses seeking an open alternative to traditional access control platforms such as LEGIC or HID have an increasingly accepted option to consider: LEAF. LEAF is an open, interoperable platform that allows end users to use their LEAF ID card, key fob or smartphone to unlock access to various campus applications through any LEAF-enabled reader. As more campuses look for ways to streamline and simplify access control, LEAF-compatible RFID readers can offer an advantage to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and system integrators selling into the campus market.

Conceived by DSP and cryptographic engineer Hugo Wendling, the LEAF standard is based on MIFARE DESFire EV2. Today, it is carried forward by the LEAF Consortium, a group of industry partners representing hardware manufacturers, software developers and identity media manufacturers. LEAF offers several critical benefits:

  • It ensures that all LEAF-enabled products are interoperable with others, so students, faculty and staff can access everything they need on campus with the same card.
  • It supports advanced security features and encryption. The LEAF Custom Cryptographic (Cc) key, which end users can set, ensures that only authorized devices loaded with the key can read the encrypted media.
  • The standard is backward-compatible with suitable existing reader hardware, which can make it easy and cost-effective to migrate without disrupting existing access control infrastructure.
  • The open standard provides more flexibility and versatility for equipment manufacturers and owners, so the access control system can be easily adapted for future requirements.

LEAF-enabled products include door locks for building access and RFID readers that can be integrated into various devices for physical access control and digital access management. In a campus environment, applications could include elevator panels, turnstiles, multi-function printers, computer workstations, vending machines, smart lockers, retail registers, EV charging stations and more.

This creates the opportunity for a genuinely unified access control system. Instead of managing multiple user identities and identification media for different applications – such as campus transportation, building and parking garage entry, single sign-on (SSO) to campus networks, and access to amenities such as the cafeteria or gym – users can use their LEAF identity credential for everything. That same credential card carries over to other LEAF-enabled applications off-campus, too. As a result, LEAF provides an easier way for end users to manage their digital identities to access locations, physical assets and services in both the consumer and professional realms.

The open platform makes LEAF exceptionally easy for equipment manufacturers and system integrators to implement. With the LEAF standard, access control from the front door to the printer can be unified under one universal standard—even when using readers from different manufacturers. A simple firmware update can make suitable readers LEAF-compatible.

As the “smart office,” “smart city” and “smart campus” become a reality, user identification and access control are more critical than ever. LEAF makes it possible to create unified access systems with more user convenience and a lower entry barrier for system owners, integrators and equipment manufacturers.

Curious about implementing LEAF? ELATEC can help you decide whether the LEAF standard is right for you.


Sean Houchin is the product manager for ELATEC in Palm City, Fla., and is part of the global ELATEC GmbH product-management team. He has over 20 years of experience in product development, management and applications engineering. Sean is an expert in RFID technology, optoelectronic and fiber optic video, audio, and data transmission equipment for military and commercial applications, and is a veteran of the United States Navy.

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