Table of Contents
Tailgating attacks bypass physical security measures by exploiting the most vulnerable links in the chain: human kindness and deception. Despite high-tech safeguards, these cunning security breaches occur when unauthorized individuals follow authorized personnel into secure areas without raising alarms or requiring passwords.
Recognizing tailgating is just as crucial as any cybersecurity protocol because it highlights the intersection of technology and social behavior. Let’s dive into how these social engineering attacks operate.
Cybersecurity Education and Training Begins Here
Here’s how your free trial works:
- Meet with our cybersecurity experts to assess your environment and identify your threat risk exposure
- Within 24 hours and minimal configuration, we’ll deploy our solutions for 30 days
- Experience our technology in action!
- Receive report outlining your security vulnerabilities to help you take immediate action against cybersecurity attacks
Fill out this form to request a meeting with our cybersecurity experts.
Thank you for your submission.
What Is a Tailgating Attack?
A tailgating attack is a breach of security where an unauthorized actor gains access to a controlled area by closely following someone with legitimate access credentials. This type of attack targets an organization’s physical security measures and exploits human behavior rather than digital vulnerabilities.
For instance, an attacker may pose as a delivery person or vendor, requesting access while bringing supplies, parcels, meals, or other items. In addition to “hold the door” techniques, attackers may ask to use an employee’s laptop or smartphone, claiming their device’s battery is dead, allowing them to install harmful software or copy credentials.
The purpose of tailgating attacks is to gain trust to perpetrate more elaborate attacks. Success hinges on observation and timing. Attackers observe employees entering secure locations and then act unassumingly to avoid arousing suspicion. They may impersonate delivery personnel, maintenance workers, or new staff members—any guise that increases their chances of blending in with the environment.
The potential consequences of these attacks can be far-reaching. Once inside, the attacker could connect to network ports or leave behind devices designed to compromise systems later. It’s crucial for organizations not just to invest in technological barriers but also to foster a culture aware of such social engineering tactics. Understanding tailgating attacks reinforces why physical security protocols are inseparable from cyber defenses in an organization’s risk management plan.
Tailgating Attacks vs. Piggybacking
Tailgating attacks and piggybacking are often interchangeable due to their similarities, as both involve unauthorized individuals gaining access to restricted areas by exploiting legitimate entry actions. However, organizations and cybersecurity professionals must understand their nuanced differences.
Tailgating is typically an opportunistic attack; it happens when an unauthorized person follows someone with proper clearance through a secure door without being noticed or challenged. It’s a passive approach where an unassuming attacker takes advantage of others’ inattentiveness or willingness to hold doors open for strangers.
On the other hand, piggybacking can be intentional or accidental but involves some level of permission—or at least perceived permission—from the authorized individual. In piggybacking scenarios, an employee knowingly allows someone into a secured area against company policy, out of courtesy or under the intruder’s false pretenses.
Both tactics showcase vulnerabilities in physical security practices and rely heavily on human factors like trust and social etiquette rather than technological flaws. Common solutions to mitigate such risks effectively include:
- Install surveillance cameras at all sensitive entry points.
- Implement a “no tailgating” policy, complete with signage near entrances.
- Deploy security personnel who can actively monitor ingress and egress.
- Communicate clear policies about granting access.
- Emphasize security awareness training to recognize potential threats.
- Require physical security measures like individual authentication at entry points.
Distinguishing tailgating from piggybacking clarifies their vulnerable sources—whether they stem from neglectful behavior (tailgating) or misguided helpfulness (piggybacking). Each requires tailored preventative strategies reflecting its unique nature within cybersecurity frameworks.
Who Is Most at Risk for Tailgating Attacks?
Employees who are most vulnerable to tailgating attacks often share common traits. Individuals who are overly trusting or not security-conscious can inadvertently become targets. New staff members unfamiliar with coworkers may be less aware of existing security protocols and more susceptible to tailgating. High-turnover positions also create a revolving door through which it’s easier for attackers to blend in unnoticed. Additionally, attackers may target senior executives for their high-level access privileges; however, they’re generally better educated about these risks.
Organizations that maintain sensitive information tend to be prime targets for tailgating attacks. Financial institutions handling client investments and personal data are desirable prospects for cybercriminals seeking lucrative gains. Healthcare providers also fall into this category because patient records hold valuable personal and insurance information ripe for exploitation. Government agencies are also targets of espionage attempts, including physical breaches like tailgating into restricted areas where digital defenses alone won’t suffice.
Examples of Tailgating Attacks
Tailgating attacks come in various forms but generally involve an unauthorized individual following an authorized person into a secured area. Here are some common scenarios illustrating what these security breaches look like:
- The friendly stranger: A classic example is when someone waits near a secure doorway and casually converses with an employee with access. They may pretend to be a new hire without their key card or act as if they’re carrying too many items to badge in themselves. The unsuspecting employee holds the door open for them out of politeness or haste.
- Delivery deception: Attackers might pose as delivery personnel carrying large packages, making it difficult to use their access credentials. Employees might rush to help hold doors open for them without asking for identification or confirmation that they’re expected.
- Impersonation ploy: In this scenario, attackers impersonate IT staff, claiming they need urgent access to server rooms or offices due to technical issues. Without proper verification processes in place, employees might allow these seemingly trustworthy individuals through restricted areas.
- After-hours ambush: Another method involves waiting until after regular work hours when fewer people are around, and security may be less vigilant. An attacker can follow night-shift workers inside under the guise of working late or returning after forgetting something earlier.
Each instance exploits human kindness and social norms, such as our instinct to lend a helping hand or simply not ignore someone who seems like they belong there. However, exercising due diligence as part of company culture and recognizing tailgating attack attempts hinges on staying vigilant, even during the most trivial encounters.
10 Ways to Prevent Tailgating Attacks
Awareness is undoubtedly the first line of defense for preventing tailgating attacks. Understanding these breaches can happen at any time and recognizing their signs are crucial to mitigating risk. Individuals play a key role. Not only should they be cautious about who follows them into secure areas, but they should also report suspicious behavior. However, awareness alone isn’t enough. Organizations need concrete protocols and ongoing campaigns to establish a robust security culture.
1. Establish Strict Access Control Measures
Implement electronic access control systems that require individual authentication for entry through turnstiles or mantraps, which make tailgating more difficult. Biometric, card-based, and role-based access control (RBAC) are some of the most effective types that organizations can leverage.
2. Employee Security Awareness Training
Conduct training sessions regularly to educate employees about security policies, focusing on identifying social engineering strategies like tailgating. These trainings should emphasize that every team member plays an essential role in keeping the workplace secure and encourage everyone to be alert and responsible for safeguarding their environment.
3. Visitor Management Systems
Assign visitors badges with vivid color-coding and clearly displayed expiration times. This makes it easy to see when someone’s visit should be over, reducing the chance of them staying longer than intended. Badges can also specify if a visitor requires an escort while on-site, ensuring they’re always authorized personnel to account for their whereabouts within the facility.
4. Security Campaigns and Drills
Organize ongoing security campaigns using posters, email reminders, intranet updates, or other communication methods to keep security at the forefront of employees’ minds. Complement these with regular drills that simulate tailgating scenarios to familiarize staff with effectively responding to real situations. The goal is for every team member to know about policies and feel confident about taking necessary action.
5. Physical Barriers
Employing physical barriers, such as bollards, gates, and secured revolving doors, provide additional layers between public spaces and restricted zones, making it harder for attackers to slip by unnoticed. These measures also slow down threat actors, allowing staff to spot something amiss before it’s too late.
6. Surveillance Systems
Position cameras to oversee entry and exit points and key common areas within your facility. The presence of surveillance acts as a deterrent, making potential intruders think twice before attempting unauthorized access because they know their actions could be recorded. Additionally, video footage can be valuable evidence in the event of an incident.
7. Clear Signage
Display signs easily read at all entrances and throughout your building, outlining who is allowed where and what procedures visitors must follow upon arrival. Clear signage reminds guests and employees about security protocols while reinforcing that strict adherence is critical for everyone’s safety.
8. Tailgate Detection Technology
Invest in advanced detection systems equipped with sensors and alarms designed to signal when someone tries to follow another person through a door without using proper credentials—often referred to as “tailgating attempts.” These alerts enable security staff to respond swiftly, potentially stopping an intrusion early before it leads to more serious security breaches or damage.
9. Regular Audits and Policy Updates
Periodically review your current security procedures and improve where necessary. As tactics used by attackers evolve, so too should your defense strategies. Regularly updating policies based on audit findings is a proactive measure that prevents incidents such as tailgating attacks.
10. Engagement from Top-Level Management
Organizational leadership must recognize and treat security as a top priority. They should actively promote a culture where protecting the company’s assets is everyone’s responsibility, not just the IT department or security team. When managers lead by example, they set a standard for all employees to follow, creating an environment where security practices are respected and emulated throughout the entire organization.
Implementing these prevention measures can bolster an organization’s defenses against sophisticated techniques perpetrators employ to exploit human error and gain unlawful access to sensitive information and valuable resources in targeted facilities.
How Proofpoint Can Help
Protecting your organization from tailgating attacks is an ongoing process that demands constant vigilance and a proactive approach. That’s where Proofpoint can make a significant difference. With its suite of advanced security tools designed to safeguard against various cyber threats, including tailgating, Proofpoint can provide your organization with peace of mind.
Proofpoint’s solutions improve email security protocols for thwarting phishing attempts and provide critical threat intelligence insights that keep your security posture one step ahead of potential intruders. By integrating Proofpoint’s expertise in effective employee training programs, regular policy audits, and stringent access controls, your organization can reinforce its immediate defenses and establish a culture deeply rooted in security mindfulness for long-term resilience. For more information, contact Proofpoint.
Subscribe to the Proofpoint Blog