At Cyber
What is Tailgating in Cyber Security?

Have you ever held the door open for a stranger out of politeness, only to later question if it was the right thing to do?

In the world of cybersecurity, this seemingly innocuous act can have serious consequences.

Tailgating, also known as piggybacking, is a common tactic for cybercriminals to gain unauthorized access to restricted areas, and it’s a growing concern for businesses in 2024.

What is Tailgating in Cyber Security?

Tailgating happens in the physical world when, for example, a coworker follows you through a turnstile or through a door because it has been held open by you. The unauthorized person might even ask the authorized person to keep the door open – all to avoid the need to personally swipe their own key card, type in their biometric password, or scan their eye before entering the secure area.

That is also known as a piggybacking breach – the attacker ‘piggybacks’ on the authorized user’s rights of entry.

Example of Tailgating in Cyber Security

Imagine the same attacker, dressed as a delivery person and carrying a bulky package, coming to the large, secured door of an office building.

As one of the employees runs through – badging in and opening the door – the attacker asks them to ‘Hold the door please, my hands are full.’ The employee gets distracted by the package being squeezed through the door, lets the door hold, and the attacker follows in. Once inside, the attacker can move freely throughout the building to steal confidential data or intellectual property, or even attack employees with physical violence.

  • Tailgating exploits our fundamental human nature: Bad actors count on our natural, helpful, and friendly impulses to make it easier to convince employees to let them through.
  • Social engineering is commonly employed: The attacker may take the time to be friendly or create a crisis to generate trust, so the victim breaks protocol to help.
  • But tailgating can have serious repercussions: a single successful attempt may lead to data breaches, financial losses, tarnished reputations, and even legal ramifications.

Methods of Tailgating Attacks

Tailgating attacks can take various forms, each exploiting different human behaviors and security vulnerabilities. Some of the most common methods include:

Exploiting Politeness

Attackers exploit the courtesy that makes employees hold doors for other people. As a pair approaches an employee entering an area with access control, the attacker may hold a handful of papers in the other hand and ask the employee to hold the door.

The attacker might claim to have forgotten his access card or that his hands are full. The human being’s reluctance to come across as rude might enable the attacker to enter with a device or bypass access control with a negligent employee’s card.

Impersonating Trusted Third-Parties

The criminal may pass himself off as a delivery man, an IT technician fixing a computer, or a building maintenance worker. He can wear a covering garment that can be easily slipped off to reveal the street clothing he is concealing, or a completely convincing uniform with an appropriate identification badge and work order.

The employee, believing him to be one of their own (perhaps after briefly glancing at an ID card), is led to believe that everything is in order.

Using Unattended Devices

Bystander attackers can carry out tailgating, gaining access simply by following an employee in through a secure door. They may also target unattended devices, such as employee computers or tablets, that have been left logged in because an employee felt compelled to step away from their desk for a short period. For example, a bad actor can gain access to a sensitive area by following an employee through a secured door and then quickly log into the employee’s computer while they are in the bathroom or grabbing a cup of coffee.

The lesson here is that organizations should have strict device lock policies in place and train employees to guard against ‘shoulder surfing’ that can occur when employees leave their devices unattended, even for a brief period.

  • Social engineering plays a significant role: Tailgating attacks heavily rely on social engineering techniques, which involve manipulating individuals into divulging sensitive information or granting access through deception and persuasion.
  • Tailgating can be a stepping stone to more severe attacks: Once an attacker gains unauthorized access to a secure area, they may use this opportunity to launch further attacks, such as installing malware on company networks, stealing confidential data, or even physically harming employees.
  • A multi-layered approach to security is necessary: Preventing tailgating requires a combination of robust physical security measures, such as access control systems and surveillance cameras, as well as comprehensive employee training on identifying and responding to potential tailgating attempts.

Why is Tailgating Dangerous for Enterprises?

Tailgating poses significant risks to enterprises, as a single unauthorized entry can compromise the entire organization’s security. When an attacker gains access to restricted areas, they can steal sensitive data, install malware on company networks, or even cause physical damage to critical infrastructure.

  • Intellectual property theft: Tailgaters sometimes gain access to restricted areas where they can steal confidential information such as trade secrets, customer data, and financial records that can cause loss of competitive advantage, reputational harm, and litigation.
  • Compliance violations: Many industries face serious restrictions to protect data, including the HIPAA data protection and privacy requirements for the US health sector, or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) for European Union residents. A successful tailgating attack can result in non-compliance (and expensive fines) with regulations.
  • Installation of malware: Once inside a secure perimeter, attackers can install some malicious code on company computers or networks, giving them visibility of activities and the ability to steal data and launch other attacks. This could mean extended downtime, monetary loss, and damage to an organisation’s reputation.

Enterprises must prioritize identity protection measures to safeguard against tailgating and other social engineering attacks. Implementing strict access control policies, regularly training employees on security best practices, and investing in advanced security technologies can help mitigate the risks associated with tailgating.

How Does Tailgating Work?

Tailgating attacks rely on a combination of human manipulation and security vulnerabilities. Cybercriminals exploit our natural inclination to be helpful and trusting, making it easier for them to gain unauthorized access to restricted areas.

  • Reconnaissance plays a key role: Before attempting a tailgating attack, cybercriminals often conduct thorough reconnaissance to identify weaknesses in an organization’s security measures. They may observe employee behaviors, study building layouts, and gather information about items for a cyberattack to create convincing cover stories and disguises.
  • Social engineering is the foundation: Tailgating heavily relies on social engineering tactics to manipulate employees into granting access. Attackers may engage in friendly conversation, create a sense of urgency, or even flirt with targets to build rapport and trust. They exploit human emotions, such as the desire to be helpful or the fear of appearing rude, to convince employees to let them into secure areas.
  • Blending in is key: To increase their chances of success, tailgaters often try to blend in with legitimate employees or visitors. They may dress in business attire, carry fake ID badges, or even forge documents to support their cover stories. The more convincing their appearance and behavior, the less likely employees are to question their presence in restricted areas.

Tailgating attacks exemplify the need for security to be more than a collection of technology; physical access control systems and closed-circuit television cameras can both discourage tailgating attempts, but employee education dedicated to fixing their ‘sixth sense’ and become better able to recognize — and respond to — common social engineering attempts can deter tailgating attacks as well.

Factors That Make Enterprises Vulnerable to Tailgating

Several factors contribute to an enterprise’s vulnerability to tailgating attacks, even in 2024. Recognizing and addressing these weaknesses can significantly improve your organization’s overall security posture.

  • Lack of cybersecurity prevention: the lack of performed formal risk assessment or use of robust security mechanisms without a clear understanding of the risk profile/adversaries, it makes it difficult to distribute personnel/resources accordingly and thwart attacks. Organisations need to perform proper security audits and have sophisticated policies in place to allocate risk wisely, identify and patch up weaknesses before threat actors do.
  • Intermittent Employee Training: While many organizations provide new employees with an initial round of security training, these same organizations often skip retraining and testing employees routinely on these precautions. As the world of cybercrime grows and individuals with varying levels of experience join the growing workforce, it’s important to ensure that employees are diligent when aware of potential tailgating by checking new badges. Consistent training can help foster alignment with one another and maintain securitized practices when detecting potential tailgating attempts.
  • Outdated or Not Installed Threat Protection Software: Not using or updating software that’s intended to help prevent, detect, and fix breaches leaves the organization wide open to tailgating attacks. Late-generation technologies that include AI-driven surveillance and biometric access used for frictionless check-in can both deter and detect attempts at unauthorized access. However, those tools need to be regularly updated and maintained to counter new threats.

Investing in cybersecurity for beginners is a smart move for any organization, regardless of size or industry. Understanding the basics of cybersecurity, including the risks associated with tailgating, empowers you to make informed decisions about protecting your company’s assets and reputation.

A complex keyhole surrounded by the inside of a computer

How to Prevent Tailgating Attacks

Because cybercriminals are likely to get savvier by the day, your organization should adopt a multilayered defense to ward off the risk of tailgating safety breaches. A combination of staff training, strong security rules, and cutting-edge technology can go a long way in ensuring your company’s data and assets stay safe from the wrong hands.

Educate Employees About Social Engineering

Employees are often the weakest link in an organization’s security chain, making them prime targets for social engineering tactics used in tailgating attacks.

  • Conduct live drills: Test whether employees can spot potential tailgaters by conducting a live attack with fake criminals. This will let your staff put training theories into practice in the real world.
  • Keep up a training regimen: Give employees regular training on the latest social engineering tricks, and about best practices for security in the workplace. Encourage a culture where employees are trained to look out for problems. Let everyone be the eyes and ears of their co-workers and help each other remain secure.
  • Have a specific reporting procedure: Make sure employees know how and whom to contact if there is a potential security breach, such as a tailgating attempt. The faster the threat is brought to the attention of your security team, the faster the threat can be investigated and eliminated.

Implement a Cyber Hygiene Guide

Developing and enforcing a comprehensive cyber hygiene guide helps ensure that all employees follow best practices for securing devices and data.

  • Establish clear protocols: Create guidelines for password management, device usage, and data handling. Regularly update these protocols to address emerging threats and technologies.
  • Enforce compliance: Implement strict consequences for non-compliance with cyber hygiene protocols. This may include disciplinary action or additional training for employees who violate security policies.
  • Conduct regular audits: Perform periodic audits to ensure that employees are adhering to the cyber hygiene guide. This helps identify areas for improvement and reinforces the importance of maintaining a secure work environment.

Use Biometric Technology

Biometric technology uses unique biological identifiers, such as fingerprints, facial recognition, or iris scans, to verify an individual’s identity before granting access to restricted areas.

  • Implement biometric access control: Replace traditional keys or access cards with biometric scanners to ensure that only authorized individuals can enter secure locations. This makes it significantly more difficult for tailgaters to gain unauthorized access.
  • Integrate with existing security systems: Ensure that your biometric technology seamlessly integrates with your organization’s cybersecurity solutions, such as surveillance cameras and alarm systems. This creates a cohesive and robust security infrastructure.
  • Regularly update and maintain: As with any technology, biometric systems require regular updates and maintenance to remain effective. Partner with a reputable vendor to ensure that your biometric access control remains up-to-date and secure.

Implement Comprehensive Security Systems

Investing in advanced security systems that monitor, back up, identify threats, and ensure compliance around the clock is crucial for preventing tailgating attacks.

  • 24/7 monitoring: Implement AI-powered surveillance systems that can detect unusual behavior or unauthorized access attempts in real time. This allows security teams to respond quickly to potential threats.
  • Automated threat detection: Utilize machine learning algorithms to analyze access logs and identify patterns that may indicate tailgating attempts. This proactive approach helps prevent breaches before they occur.
  • Secure data backup: Regularly backup sensitive data to secure, off-site locations. This ensures that your organization can quickly recover from a breach and minimizes the impact of a successful tailgating attack.

By educating employees, implementing strict protocols, leveraging biometric technology, and investing in comprehensive security systems, you can significantly reduce the risk of tailgating attacks and protect your organization’s valuable assets.

What Are the Best Ways to Protect Against Tailgating?

  • Adopt a multi-faceted approach: Combine employee education, advanced technology, and constant vigilance to create a robust defense against tailgating attacks. Regularly train your staff to recognize and respond to social engineering tactics, while implementing biometric access control and AI-powered surveillance systems to deter and detect unauthorized access attempts.
  • Seek expert guidance: Partnering with experienced cybersecurity consultants gives you access to specialized knowledge and resources to develop a comprehensive tailgating prevention strategy tailored to your organization’s unique needs. These experts can help you identify vulnerabilities, implement best practices, and stay ahead of emerging threats in the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity.
  • Develop a cybersecurity culture: Create a climate where all employees – from line staff to senior executives – understand that everyone plays a role in security, are encouraged to follow cybersecurity procedures, and are held accountable. Inform employees on a regular basis of the importance of following security procedures and the potential costs of a breach, provide rewards and recognition to those who demonstrate a commitment to maintaining a secure work environment, and safeguard employee reports of suspicious activities from retribution.

Understanding and preventing tailgating in cybersecurity is crucial for safeguarding your organization’s assets and reputation. Batten Safe can guide you through the complexities of enhancing your security posture against these insidious attacks.

Check out our Marketplace now for the best in cybersecurity protection.