What is Tailgating in Cyber Security? Definition, Examples & Prevention

What is Tailgating in Cyber Security? Definition, Examples & Prevention

Have you ever held the door open for someone at your office or apartment building? It’s a polite thing to do, right? But what if that simple act could put you and everyone else at risk? Today, we’re talking about “Tailgating” in the realm of cyber security. Intrigued? You should be!

What is Tailgating in Cyber Security?

Tailgating, also known as “piggybacking,” is when an unauthorized person follows an authorized individual to gain entry into a restricted area or system. It’s as simple as walking through a door behind someone with a key card.

How It’s Different– What is Tailgating Attack? 

Unlike hacking or phishing, a tailgating attack relies on human behavior and courtesy. It doesn’t require advanced technical skills—just the audacity to walk in like you belong.

How Does Tailgating Occur?


The Friendly Gesture

You’re walking into your office building, and you see someone right behind you. Being the courteous person you are, you hold the door open for them. They smile, thank you, and walk right in.

  • Why It’s Risky: This is the most innocent-looking form of tailgating. The person behind you might look like they belong there—maybe they’re even dressed like your typical colleague. But you can’t be sure they’re supposed to be there. They could be anyone—from a harmless visitor to a potential thief or hacker.
  • How to Prevent It: If you’re unsure, it’s okay to let the door close behind you. You can politely say, “I’m sorry, I can’t let you in. You’ll have to use your own access card.” It might feel awkward, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

The Busy Bee

You’re juggling a coffee cup, a laptop bag, and a phone conversation as you badge into the office. Someone sees the opportunity and quickly slips in behind you while you’re distracted.

  • Why It’s Risky: When you’re multitasking, you’re not fully aware of your surroundings. This makes it easy for someone to tailgate behind you without you even noticing.
  • How to Prevent It: Try to minimize distractions when entering secure areas. If you’re on a call, consider telling the other person, “Hold on a sec, I need to get through security,” so you can focus on who’s entering with you.

The “Forgot My Badge”

As you approach the door, someone comes up to you and says, “Hey, I forgot my badge at home. Could you let me in?” They might even show you an ID or drop a few names to sound convincing.

  • Why It’s Risky: This is a classic social engineering trick. The person is relying on your good nature and your fear of being rude to gain access.
  • How to Prevent It: In this case, it’s best to direct them to security or the front desk. You can say, “I can’t let you in, but the security desk can assist you.” If they genuinely forgot their badge, they won’t mind taking the extra step to get a temporary one.

The Psychology Behind Tailgating Attack

Psychological FactorsSub-FactorsDescription
The Desire to Be HelpfulThe Social NormsFrom a young age, we’re taught to be polite and helpful. Holding doors open for others is seen as a courteous gesture, deeply ingrained in many cultures.
The Emotional RewardBeing helpful often comes with an emotional reward. It feels good to assist others, encouraging us to continue such behavior, even when it might not be safe.
Social Engineering at PlayWhat Is Social Engineering?Tailgating Social engineering attack is the art of manipulating people into divulging confidential information or performing actions that compromise security. In the case of tailgating, it exploits our desire to be polite and helpful.
The Power of PersuasionA skilled social engineer can use various tactics to persuade you to let them in. They might smile, make small talk, or even pretend to be in a hurry.
The Fear of ConfrontationAvoiding AwkwardnessMany people fear the awkwardness that comes with challenging someone. This fear often overrides our better judgment.
The Bystander EffectSometimes, we assume that if the person should not be allowed in, someone else will stop them. This diffusion of responsibility can lead to security lapses.
Cognitive BiasesThe Halo EffectIf someone looks like they belong—maybe they’re well-dressed or carry themselves confidently—we’re more likely to let our guard down.
Confirmation BiasIf the person tailgating name drops or shows some form of ID, we’re more likely to let them in. This confirms our initial assessment that they’re harmless, even if that’s not the case.

Understanding the psychology behind why we let our guard down can help us be more vigilant in the future. It’s a complex interplay of social norms, emotional rewards, and cognitive biases. But being aware of these factors is the first step in guarding against them.

Why is Tailgating Dangerous?

Common examples of tailgating and piggybacking attacks


Unauthorized Access

When we talk about unauthorized access, we mean that someone who has no business being in a secure area is now inside. It’s like a stranger walking into your home uninvited.

  • The Real-World Impact: This person could be harmless, but they could also be there to commit theft, vandalism, or even violence. The point is, that we don’t know, and that uncertainty is a risk in itself.
  • How to Mitigate: Security personnel should be trained to spot and challenge unauthorized individuals. Additionally, employees should be educated on the importance of not enabling tailgating, no matter how awkward it may feel to deny someone entry.

Data Theft

An intruder, once within the facility, can move relatively freely in attempting to steal critical information. This ranges from employee personal information to proprietary company information.

  • The Real-World Impact: Various challenges arise due to data theft; For individuals, identity Theft is one aspect and in cases for companies, it leads to a loss in competitiveness or Legal Issues.
  • How to Mitigate: Restrict access to visitors in locations where sensitive data is stored. And use encrypted data and two-factor authentication to add an additional defense layer.

Potential for Further Attacks

It isn’t just about tailgating but is generally part of a bigger, sophisticated attack. Physical access can simplify the installation of malware, phishing actions, or any other type of cyber attack.

  • The Real-World Impact: Let’s picture a tailgater getting into the server room. They could add hardware or software into your systems which would let them take over or watch everything in order to cause far greater security issues in the future.
  • How to Mitigate: These can be identified with regular security audits. If there are issues, such as tailgating, this indicates that the overall access control needs revising and improved.

The Domino Effect

Imagine this: One tailgater gains access and then lets in another and another. Before you know it, you’ve got a full-blown security crisis!

Prevention Measures


For Employees

  • Be Aware: Always know who’s behind you.
  • Challenge Strangers: Politely ask for identification if you don’t recognize someone.

For Security Staff

  • Regular Checks: Make rounds to ensure only authorized personnel are present.
  • Use Technology: Employ security cameras and alarms to detect tailgaters.

The Role of Technology in Preventing Tailgating

Biometric Systems

Biometric systems use unique physical characteristics—like fingerprints, eye scans, or even facial recognition—to grant access. When you approach a secure door, you’ll need to scan your fingerprint or eye to unlock it.

  • Why They’re Effective: Biometrics are hard to fake. Even if someone steals your access card, they can’t steal your fingerprint. This adds an extra layer of security that’s tough to crack.
  • Considerations: While highly secure, biometric systems can be expensive to install and maintain. They also raise privacy concerns that companies need to address.

Smart Badges

Smart badges are like your regular access cards but with a twist. They contain sensors that communicate with the security system. If the badge passes through a door without being swiped, it sends an alert to security.

  • Why They’re Effective: These badges add a level of accountability. If someone tries to tailgate behind you, the badge alerts security, making it easier to catch unauthorized entrants.
  • Considerations: Smart badges require a more complex security infrastructure but can be well worth the investment for high-security areas.

Why Technology Matters

  1. A Second Line of Defense

Let’s face it, we’re only human. We get distracted, we forget things, and sometimes we’re just too polite for our own good. That’s where technology comes in. It acts as a backup, stepping in to protect us when our human instincts fall short.

  1. Enhancing Human Vigilance

Technology doesn’t replace the need for human vigilance; it enhances it. While a security guard might not catch every tailgater, a biometric system or smart badge can provide that extra layer of scrutiny.

  1. Future-Proofing Security

As technology evolves, so do the methods used by intruders. Employing the latest tech solutions helps keep your security measures up-to-date and one step ahead of would-be tailgaters.

Final Thoughts

Tailgating may seem like a minor inconvenience or even a non-issue, especially when compared to high-profile cyber attacks that make headlines. But as we’ve explored, the risks are real and the consequences can be severe. From unauthorized access to data theft and even the potential for more elaborate cyber attacks, tailgating is a security loophole that we can’t afford to ignore.

Whether you’re an employee, a visitor, or even a top-level executive, your actions can either fortify or compromise the security of your environment.

While human vigilance is irreplaceable, technology serves as a formidable ally in our fight against tailgating. From biometric systems to smart badges, technological advancements are continually upping the ante, making it increasingly difficult for unauthorized individuals to gain access.

So, the next time you find yourself reaching to hold the door open for someone, take a moment to think. Is this person authorized to enter? Do they have their access card or badge? Your momentary pause could be the difference between a secure workspace and a compromised one.

Let’s all do our part to keep our spaces secure. Be alert, be aware, and let’s keep the tailgaters where they belong—outside!

Ready to strengthen your organization’s cybersecurity defenses and empower your team with the knowledge they need? Explore our comprehensive Cybersecurity Awareness Training for employees and Cybersecurity Certification programs for professionals today.


Q1. What is tailgating in cybersecurity?

Tailgating in cybersecurity refers to the unauthorized physical access of a secure area or system by an individual who gains entry by closely following an authorized person, and exploiting their legitimate access.

Q2. How does tailgating differ from piggybacking?

Tailgating and piggybacking are similar, but tailgating involves following someone closely to gain unauthorized access, whereas piggybacking occurs when someone holds the door open for an unauthorized person to enter.

Q3. What are some real-world examples of tailgating attacks?

Examples include an attacker entering an office building by closely following an employee with a security badge, or someone slipping into a restricted server room while an authorized person opens the door.

Q4. What risks does tailgating pose to organizations?

Tailgating can lead to unauthorized access, data breaches, theft, and potential harm to the organization’s reputation, as well as compliance violations.

Q5. How can organizations prevent tailgating incidents?

Prevention methods include:

  • Employee training on the importance of not allowing unauthorized persons to follow them.
  • Implementing access control measures like badge authentication.
  • Using security personnel to monitor entrances.
  • Installing turnstiles or access gates.
  • Conducting regular security audits.

Q6. Is tailgating solely a physical security concern?

While tailgating primarily pertains to physical security, it can have digital implications. An attacker gaining physical access could potentially compromise digital systems or data.

Q7. Are there legal consequences for tailgating attacks?

Yes, depending on the jurisdiction and the severity of the breach, tailgating attacks may lead to criminal charges or civil lawsuits.

Q8. What role does cybersecurity awareness training play in preventing tailgating?

Cybersecurity awareness training educates employees about the risks of tailgating and the importance of physical security measures, making them more vigilant and less susceptible to social engineering tactics.

Q9. Can tailgating be prevented entirely?

While it may be challenging to eliminate tailgating entirely, organizations can significantly reduce the risk through a combination of physical security measures, employee training, and access control systems.

Q10. How often should organizations review and update their tailgating prevention measures?

Regular reviews and updates are essential, as security threats and the organization’s environment can change. It’s advisable to conduct assessments at least annually and after any security incidents.