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While symmetric-key schemes are efficient in processing time for sensor networks, they generally require complicated key management, which may introduce large memory and communication overhead. On the contrary, public-key based schemes have simple and clean key management, but cost more computational time. The recent progress of elliptic curve cryptography (ECC) implementation on sensors motivates us to design a public-key scheme and compare its performance with the symmetric-key counterparts. This paper builds the user access control on commercial off-the-shelf sensor devices as a case study to show that the public-key scheme can be more advantageous in terms of the memory usage, message complexity, and security resilience. Meanwhile, our work also provides insights in integrating and designing public-key based security protocols for sensor networks.