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In Security Last updated: August 16, 2023
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While organizations take the utmost measures and invest in robust cybersecurity solutions and technologies to keep cybercriminals at bay, human errors, innocence, and negligence remain among the top reasons behind several cyberattacks and data breaches. 

Social engineering attacks that deceive employees into performing certain actions or sharing sensitive business data and information account for up to 98% of all cyberattacks

This shows how cybercriminals continue to take undue advantage of targeted users and employees, which remains one of the biggest weaknesses of many organizations’ cybersecurity strategies. 

One such common social engineering attack is tailgating. 

Also referred to as piggybacking, tailgating is one of the physical security breaches where a malicious or unauthorized entity follows an authorized entity into restricted company premises. 

In this article, we’ll see tailgating in more detail—discussing what it is, how it works, real-life examples, and how to prevent it from reducing risks of physical breaches in your organization. 

What Is Tailgating?


Tailgating is a form of social engineering attack that allows thieves, hackers, and other malicious entities entry and unauthorized access into an unrestricted region. 

Hence, unlike other online cyberattacks that digitally breach a company’s network—in tailgating, the attacker physically breaches a company’s security system to steam, access, and compromise its confidential data. 

In simple words, in tailgating, an unauthorized person simply follows or slips behind an authorized person to access restricted company premises. 

But how does tailgating work, and how do attackers trick authorized individuals and get into restricted areas? Let’s find out. 

How Does Tailgating Work? 

Tailgating is a common social engineering attack involving the attacker trying to access or get into a company building or area physically, consisting of sensitive information. 

Attackers may use coercion, deception, or trickery to induce an authorized individual into allowing them to get within restricted and confidential company premises. 

An attacker can do this in multiple ways. They can either wait around a secure exit to quickly sneak in when an authorized person unlocks the entry, pretending to be an authorized entity themselves. 

Moreover, they could also disguise to be someone else, like a repairman or a delivery person—asking authorized individuals to permit them within the company area. 

Some of the most common tailgating techniques employed by an attacker include: 

  • Pretending to be an employee with a lost or forgotten employee access ID. 
  • Hiding near a locked entry point and sneaking when an authorized person unlocks the entrance. 
  • Disguising to be a delivery person with loads of boxes or packages in hand. 
  • Deliberately having their hands full or occupied—no matter who they pretend to be, asking someone to hold the door or security entry point. 
  • Trying to walk exactly behind an authorized individual—expecting them to keep the door open for them to enter right behind them. 
  • Accessing with an authorized employee’s stolen ID or access credentials—masquerading as a legitimate company employee. 

No matter the techniques, tailgating attacks work when an intruder gains physical access to a company’s restricted area without legal permission—primarily to compromise, steal, and damage confidential information. 

What Is Physical Tailgating? 

As the name suggests, physical tailgating involves a physical attacker trying to access a restricted organization area for malicious purposes. 

The attacker uses this social engineering technique to gain unauthorized access by piggybacking or following an authorized individual. 

Thus, physical tailgating is where the attacker exploits human trust and behavior, gaining entry into authorized and secure company premises—without seeming suspicious. 

What Is Digital Tailgating? 

Digital tailgating is nothing but the typical or traditional cyberattack or social engineering attack that involves gaining unauthorized access to digital systems or networks through either deception or stealing authorized users’ credentials. 

Common social engineering or digital tailgating attacks include phishing, spear phishing, vishing, pretexting, baiting, and malware. 

Let’s get into more detail about understanding how physical and digital tailgating differ in terms of their mode of execution, target victims, intent, and preventative measures. 

Physical vs. Digital Tailgating

Typically, traditional cyberattacks or social engineering attacks involve targeting or hacking an organization’s network or systems through cybercriminal activities, such as phishing, malware, and DDoS attacks

Conversely, physical tailgating relies on the human element—exploiting human behavior rather than technological loopholes. 

Here are a few distinguishable metrics that help understand the difference between digital and physical tailgating: 

  • Digital tailgating attacks are comparatively easier to execute as they are carried out via remote and online interactions. However, the mode of execution for physical tailgating differs, as the attacker needs to be physically present at the target organization’s premises—making it riskier than cyberattacks. 
  • While the intent of digital tailgating is primarily to focus on digital data theft to steal sensitive business information or disrupt operations, physical tailgating facilitates physical theft via unauthorized access, potentially leading to other forms of cyberattacks. 
  • While digital tailgating attacks can easily target any form of company, organization, computer systems, or online business, physical tailgating attacks target physical infrastructures, like office buildings, data centers, and research labs—basically, organizations having security access controls and sensitive data. 
  • The preventative measures for digital tailgating attacks include employing firewalls, antivirus software, and intrusion detection systems; preventing physical tailgating includes employee training and awareness, robust access control systems, surveillance and security cameras, and more. 
  • By employing sophisticated techniques, digital tailgating attacks can get very complex and technologically advanced in nature. On the other hand, physical tailgating attacks aren’t as complex as they mainly rely on deceiving and manipulating human behavior—making it a direct social engineering cyberattack. 

Now that we understand the difference between physical and digital tailgating let’s look at some real-life scenarios and examples of tailgating attacks that occurred worldwide. 

Real-life Examples of Tailgating Attacks 

According to a survey by Boon Edam, over 74% of organizations fail to track tailgating, and over 71% of them feel they’re vulnerable to tailgating attacks due to physical breaches. 

Here are examples of real-life tailgating incidents and how they affected the global companies and organizations at Target. 

#1. Siemens Enterprise Security’s Breach by Colin Greenless

A Siemens Enterprise Communications Security consultant, Colin Greenless, tried accessing multiple floors of the company building with the help of tailgating. 

Colin especially tried accessing the data center room at an FTSE-listed financial institution. He set up a fake office for himself on the third floor and pretended to be a working employee—working there for several days. 

Using tailgating and other social engineering attacks, Colin could get access to very valuable and sensitive company information.

#2. Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital’s Breach in New York City

This tailgating incident occurred when a dismissed resident from New York City’s Mount Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital gained unauthorized access to Brigham and Women’s Hospital’s five operating rooms. 

Cheryl Wang was able to access the operating rooms by dressing in scrubs and without any identification badges within two days to observe the operational procedures.

#3. A 2019 Breach by Yujhing Zhang

Yujhing Zhang, a Chinese woman, was caught trespassing the U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida in 2019. 

Once caught, Zhang was found carrying two Chinese passports, four mobile phones, one computer, and other devices. Moreover, Zhang was found carrying a malware-induced thumb drive and lied about getting on the property.

#4. Verizon Data Breach in 2005

Exploiting physical tailgating and social engineering attacks, hackers could gain unauthorized access to Verizon’s internal network in 2005. 

The attackers pretended to be a vendor’s employee, convincing the security guard to let them enter the company premises—later managing to steal sensitive customer information.

#5. The TJX Companies Data Breach in 2007

The TJX Companies, including Marshalls and TJ Maxx, experienced a huge data breach in 2007 involving physical tailgating and cyberattacks. 

The attackers very smartly placed rogue wireless access points in one of the store’s parking lots to get unauthorized access to the company’s network. Hackers successfully compromised and stole customers’ millions of credit card numbers and other confidential information.

Impact of Tailgating on Cybersecurity

Tailgating is one of the most significant threats to an organization’s security system. A successful tailgating attack can disrupt the company’s revenue and pose massive threats in terms of data loss

Here’s how tailgating can impact your organization’s cybersecurity posture: 

  • Theft of private data when an attacker gains physical access to sensitive information, like login details or documents left by an employee on their work desk. 
  • Theft of company devices when an attacker can successfully steal an employee’s laptop or mobile devices left in their restricted workspaces. 
  • Sabotage of business operations by an attacker when he accesses company devices to temporarily or permanently disrupt business operations in return for a ransom. 
  • Theft or compromise of devices, resulting in the attacker installing malware, ransomware, and keyloggers into the devices by bypassing software-based defenses to prevalent cyberattacks. 

Thus, tailgating poses massive cybersecurity risks to a company’s data, staff, and property—resulting in unexpected costs and loss of reputation. Hence, taking preventative measures against tailgating well in advance is critical. 

Tailgating Preventative Measures

Organizations are proactively taking measures to prevent tailgating incidents and risks. In fact, according to a report, the tailgating detection system market is expected to jump from $63.5 million in 2021 to a whopping $99.5 million by 2028

While this might seem like a huge figure, here are a few cost-efficient and effective steps you can take to prevent tailgating from attacking and compromising your organization’s security.

#1. Enforce Security Awareness Training Programs


Many employees aren’t aware of tailgating and other social engineering attacks. Hence, educating your employees about social engineering, what it means, signs to identify tailgating, and how it can be prevented is crucial. 

Convincing employees about their role in preventing tailgating can help induce a sense of responsibility and awareness within employees in securing the organization’s data and system. 

Hence, incorporating and implementing cybersecurity training can help employees detect suspicious activities and avoid social engineering attacks like tailgating in their workplaces.

#2. Be Aware of Your Surroundings and Ensure Doors Close Swiftly

As an employee, one of the easiest ways to avoid becoming a victim of a tailgating attack is to be aware and alert of your surroundings and people around you—especially when entering restricted company areas. 

Ensure you look around when using your ID Or entering a password to unlock access-controlled doors. It’s also crucial to close the door behind you swiftly and make sure no one without a valid ID or access sneaks in behind you once you enter the restricted area. 

At an organizational level, using security revolving doors can be highly beneficial in preventing tailgating risks.

#3. Advanced Video Surveillance


When your company includes multiple entrances and restricted areas, monitoring them can be challenging, and relying on human elements like security guards alone isn’t wise. 

Hence, surveillance devices like CCTVs and advanced surveillance solutions can prevent tailgating by keeping a 24/7 check on the company premises. 

Advanced video surveillance solutions use video analytics and Artificial Intelligence techniques to increase the efficiency of real-time security measures. They assess individuals who enter the company entrances and compare the recorded video footage with the employee’s and contractors’ facial scans. This makes it easier to detect an intruder as advanced video surveillance works in real time.

#4. Use Biometric Scans


Biometric scanners, such as fingerprint scanners, facial recognition, iris recognition, voice recognition, heart rate sensors, or other Personally Identifiable Information (PII), ensure ultimate security by allowing only one authorized person to enter the restricted area. 

Since they scan an authorized individual’s unique physical feature, they prove to be much more secure than passwords and PINs—preventing tailgaters from sneaking in or following an authorized individual.

#5. Issue Smart Badges


Smart cards or smart badges are other critical ways that can help you boost your organization’s physical security and avoid the chances of tailgating. 

Smart badges use RFID technology and are easily configurable to permit access to different company locations by swiping or scanning them at specific entrances. This way, it becomes easier to determine who is granted access to specific areas without requiring them to retrieve a key whenever they wish to make any changes.

#6. Use Laser Sensors

Photosensors or laser sensors make it easier to detect multiple people walking through or entering an entrance at the same time. They restrict entry to an entrance to a single person—significantly reducing tailgating risks. 

If an intruder tries to tailgate, the sensors will alert the security personnel in charge—making it an excellent security solution to tailgating, especially when there’s a huge influx of employees moving in and out of company premises or during company events.

#7. Train Security Guards


Lastly, while training employees and making them aware of tailgating and social engineering is crucial—it’s also important to train your company’s security guards and make them aware of tailgating attacks and their impact on the organization’s data, revenue, and reputation. 

This will instill a sense of responsibility within the guards—making them more alert and aware to call out individuals without ID badges or smart cards and immediately report to the respective security personnel in case they find someone suspicious.

Final Words 

Security isn’t one person’s job. It’s only when the entire organization—from the top senior security personnel and IT teams to individual employees and guards work together and contribute towards following the best security practices—can it prevent attacks like tailgating. 

Tailgating is a serious threat to organizations—compromising their data security and confidential information, costing them millions and billions of dollars to compensate for the attack. 

So, if you own a large business or an organization in multiple locations, ensure you spread cybersecurity education and tailgating awareness and employ the best tailgating preventative measures discussed in this article.

Next, check out the best cybersecurity certifications to upskill yourself.

  • Tejal Sushir
    Tejal is an experienced B2B SaaS content writer for eCommerce and marketing, specializing in web hosting, AI & ML, cloud and cybersecurity, SEO, and digital marketing. She holds a B.E degree in Electronics & Telecommunications… read more
  • Rashmi Sharma

    Rashmi is a highly experienced content manager, SEO specialist, and data analyst with over 7 years of expertise. She has a solid academic background in computer applications and a keen interest in data analysis.

    Rashmi is… read more

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