Protecting Your Data: What You Need to Know About Tailgating in Cybersecurity


Securing personal and organizational data has become critical in this increasingly digital age. One of the lesser-known yet potent threats is tailgating in cybersecurity. So, what is tailgating in cyber security? It’s a method by which unauthorized individuals gain access to secure areas or data by piggybacking a legitimate user’s credentials. This article aims to shed light on this type of cyber threat, its impact, and how to protect your valuable data from such attacks.

What is Tailgating in Cybersecurity?

Tailgating, in cybersecurity, refers to a social engineering attack where unauthorized individuals gain access to restricted areas or systems by following authorized individuals. This happens physically, like entering a building closely behind an authorized person, or digitally, like latching onto a user with valid network access.

The primary concern with tailgating is bypassing established security measures such as passwords, biometric scanners, or firewalls, relying instead on human vulnerability. An attacker might, for instance, strike up a conversation with an employee, creating a distraction while they subtly move into the restricted area.

Tailgating attacks are particularly hard to counter because they exploit courteous behavior. When entering a door, most people will hold it open for the person behind them out of politeness. Digital tailgating is even more insidious as attackers can piggyback on a user’s network access without them realizing it.

The best defense against tailgating is a well-educated workforce aware of security protocols, and a strong security culture that encourages employees to challenge unfamiliar individuals. Digitally, organizations need to implement robust network access controls and regularly monitor network activity for signs of intrusion.

How Tailgating Occurs

Tailgating typically occurs in two main scenarios: physical and digital. In a physical context, it can happen when an unauthorized individual follows an authorized individual into a restricted area, often exploiting social norms of politeness and courtesy. For instance, an unauthorized person might walk closely behind an employee entering a secured building, piggybacking off their access to enter without being questioned or checked.

Digital tailgating, on the other hand, is a more covert and complex form of this security breach. It typically involves unauthorized users gaining access to secured systems or networks by exploiting system vulnerabilities or taking advantage of an authorized user’s access. This can happen via various methods such as piggybacking on a user’s network access, using stolen credentials, or exploiting weaknesses in a network’s security protocols.

Regardless of the method used, the end result of tailgating is often the same – unauthorized access to secure areas or sensitive data. This can lead to serious consequences, including data theft, malicious attacks on the system, or even physical threats during physical tailgating.

Preventing tailgating requires a multifaceted approach that combines physical security measures, cybersecurity protocols, employee education, and a culture of security awareness. It is vital for companies to regularly review and update their security measures, train their employees to recognize and respond to potential tailgating attempts, and foster a culture where security is everyone’s responsibility.

By understanding what tailgating is and how it occurs, organizations can better protect their physical and digital assets and ensure their data remains secure.

Why Tailgating Happens

Tailgating happens primarily due to two factors: human error and system vulnerabilities. Human error is arguably the most significant factor contributing to tailgating breaches. Often, it’s the result of employees unknowingly aiding an unauthorized individual’s access—either physically, by holding a door open, or digitally, by sharing login credentials or working in a public space where information can be easily overlooked.

On the other hand, system vulnerabilities refer to weaknesses in the security protocols of an organization’s physical or digital spaces. Inefficient security systems, weak network controls, or a lack of regular system audits can create loopholes that unauthorized individuals can exploit to gain entry.

Moreover, tailgating is often successful because it operates on the principle of deception. Attackers masquerade as trustworthy entities to manipulate employees into providing them with access. This could involve impersonating a colleague, a maintenance worker, or high-ranking executive.

The ubiquity of tailgating and its potential to lead to severe breaches underlines organizations’ need to equip their workforce with the knowledge and tools to identify and prevent such incidents. It’s paramount for organizations to foster a culture of security consciousness, where each member understands their role in safeguarding the company’s assets and is prepared to challenge any suspicious activity, while ensuring robust, up-to-date security systems are in place.

Risks and Consequences of Tailgating

Tailgating in cybersecurity poses a significant and multifaceted threat to an organization’s physical and digital domains, potentially leading to severe consequences that can reverberate throughout the entire system.

Physically, tailgating can grant unauthorized individuals surreptitious access to sensitive areas, creating a cascading effect of potential harm. In extreme cases, this could include theft or damage of essential equipment, confidential documents, and even physical harm to staff members. The implications of such intrusions extend beyond mere material losses, as the compromised security can erode trust and undermine the organization’s overall well-being.

Digitally, the impact of a successful tailgating attack can be far-reaching and profoundly damaging. Unauthorized access to computers and networks can open the floodgates to various problems, including data breaches where sensitive information is stolen, corrupted, or deleted.

The infiltrator could gain access to everything from client data, financial information, proprietary secrets to employee records, posing a significant risk to the organization’s reputation, financial health, and legal standing. The potential fallout from such breaches can have long-lasting consequences, leading to costly lawsuits, regulatory penalties, and irreparable damage to stakeholder trust.

Moreover, a tailgating attack could be the gateway for more sophisticated cyberattacks. An initial breach can allow for the surreptitious installation of malicious software such as ransomware, spyware, or Trojans, which can then be used to launch further exploitation of the network. This can result in a domino effect of compromised systems, data, and operations.

The consequences of tailgating highlight the critical importance of implementing strict physical and digital security measures. Organizations must ensure that employees are well-trained to identify, prevent, and respond to tailgating attempts. Additionally, implementing a robust security infrastructure that includes secure network protocols, two-factor authentication, regular system audits, and comprehensive incident response plans can help mitigate the risk of tailgating attacks and safeguard the organization’s valuable assets.

By recognizing the multifaceted nature of tailgating threats and taking proactive measures to address them, organizations can better protect themselves and their stakeholders from the potentially devastating consequences of these insidious attacks.

Who is Most Vulnerable to Tailgating Attacks?

Organizations across all sectors are susceptible to tailgating attacks, a form of social engineering where unauthorized individuals gain access to restricted areas by exploiting employees’ trust. However, some organizations are more vulnerable than others due to various factors such as their size, work nature, and security infrastructure.

Small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often face a higher risk due to limited resources to invest in high-grade security measures. This makes them an attractive target for attackers looking for an easier way. Furthermore, SMBs might not have a formalized security training program for their employees, leaving them more susceptible to social engineering attacks like tailgating.

On the other hand, while having better security measures in place, large corporations and governmental entities are not immune to tailgating threats. These organizations are appealing targets due to the vast amounts of sensitive data they hold. Additionally, the sheer size of these organizations can be a disadvantage as it becomes more challenging to spot an unauthorized individual amidst a large workforce.

Industries dealing with highly sensitive data, such as healthcare, finance, and defense, face heightened vulnerability to tailgating attacks. Attackers see the information held by these sectors as highly valuable on the black market, making them prime targets.

Moreover, any organization heavily reliant on physical security systems, such as keycard access to buildings, is potentially at risk. Without proper training and awareness, employees may inadvertently compromise security by holding doors open for others out of courtesy, unknowingly granting unauthorized access.

Organizations must prioritize cybersecurity education and awareness amongst their employees to effectively mitigate tailgating threats. Regularly updating and testing security protocols is crucial to ensure they are equipped to deal with emerging threats. By fostering a security-conscious culture that encourages employees to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity, organizations can significantly reduce their vulnerability to tailgating attacks.

What’s the Difference Between Tailgating and Piggybacking?

While tailgating and piggybacking are often used interchangeably in cybersecurity, it is important to understand their subtle differences. Tailgating, as discussed earlier, involves unauthorized individuals gaining access to restricted areas or systems by following authorized individuals, either physically or digitally. It takes advantage of social norms and politeness, exploiting the human tendency to be helpful and courteous.

On the other hand, piggybacking occurs when an authorized individual knowingly allows an unauthorized individual to access a restricted area or system. This could happen when an employee intentionally holds a door open for a visitor without a badge, or when a user shares their login credentials with a colleague.

The key difference lies in the intent. Tailgating is an act of deception by the unauthorized individual, whereas piggybacking involves consent from the authorized individual, albeit misguided. In the case of piggybacking, the authorized person knowingly violates security protocols, making it a more severe transgression in many cases.

By delving into these nuances, you can better understand the implications of tailgating and piggybacking regarding security threats. Both actions underscore the need for comprehensive security protocols and a culture of security awareness among all members of an organization.

Educating employees about the risks associated with these practices and promoting vigilance to mitigate potential breaches and protect sensitive information is crucial. Developing a robust security infrastructure that includes access control measures, surveillance systems, and regular security audits can further enhance the overall security posture of an organization.

Furthermore, organizations should consider implementing multifactor authentication and continuous employee training to combat the risks of tailgating and piggybacking. By promoting a strong security culture, organizations can empower their employees to identify and report suspicious activities, reinforcing the importance of maintaining a secure environment.

Understanding the nuances between tailgating and piggybacking is crucial in combating cybersecurity threats. By recognizing the intent behind these actions and implementing appropriate security measures, organizations can better protect themselves from unauthorized access and potential breaches.

How to Prevent Tailgating

Preventing tailgating requires a comprehensive approach encompassing technical measures, physical security, and employee awareness and education.

When it comes to technical solutions, implementing advanced access control systems and network monitoring tools can greatly enhance security. Access control systems, such as biometric scanners, RFID badges, or facial recognition technology, provide robust authentication methods, significantly reducing the risk of unauthorized entry. Network monitoring tools are vital in detecting anomalies or irregular activities within your network, serving as an early warning system for potential tailgating attempts.

In addition to technical measures, physical security provisions play a crucial role in preventing tailgating incidents. Installing turnstile entrances that allow only one person to enter at a time adds an extra layer of control and deters unauthorized access. Security personnel stationed at key access points can actively monitor and challenge individuals, ensuring only authorized personnel gain entry. Furthermore, deploying security cameras and alarm systems act as visual deterrents, discouraging potential tailgaters from attempting unauthorized access.

However, the effectiveness of these measures heavily relies on a well-informed and alert workforce. Regular security awareness training is paramount to educate employees about the risks and consequences of tailgating and provide them with the necessary knowledge to identify and report potential tailgating attempts. Encouraging a culture where employees challenge unfamiliar individuals in restricted areas or promptly report any suspicious activity further strengthens the defense against tailgating.

Lastly, organizations must prioritize regularly reviewing and updating their security policies and protocols. With evolving cyber threats, it is crucial to adapt security measures accordingly. Conducting regular audits helps identify potential vulnerabilities and ensures that security defenses are robust enough to address current and future threats, maintaining a strong defense against tailgating.

Organizations can effectively prevent tailgating and safeguard their premises and assets by implementing a cohesive blend of technical, physical, and employee-focused security measures.


Tailgating poses a significant threat to the security of both physical and digital spaces within an organization. Whether allowing unauthorized individuals into restricted physical areas or providing a gateway for more extensive digital breaches, the risks associated with tailgating are severe and far-reaching. The most vulnerable are often small to medium-sized businesses and sectors dealing with sensitive data, but no organization is immune.

The key to mitigating this threat lies in a multifaceted approach, combining technical measures, physical security, and a well-informed, vigilant workforce. Organizations can considerably reduce their susceptibility to tailgating attacks and protect their valuable assets by prioritizing cybersecurity education and fostering a culture of vigilance and security consciousness.

Regular audits and updates to security protocols are also essential in keeping up with the evolving landscape of cyber threats. In an era of increasing digital dependence, understanding and combating tailgating is integral to maintaining a secure environment.


Why is it called tailgating?

The term “tailgating” refers to following closely behind someone, much like a vehicle tailgating another on a road, to gain unauthorized entry into a restricted area.

Is tailgating malware?

No, tailgating is not malware. It’s a security breach method where unauthorized individuals gain access by following authorized ones into restricted areas.

Is tailgating a threat or vulnerability?

Tailgating is both a threat and a vulnerability. It’s a threat because it’s an action that can lead to a breach, and it’s a vulnerability because it exploits weaknesses in security protocols and human behavior.

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