Cybersecurity's Unwanted Passengers: Piggybacking and Tailgating

Throwback to the days when you were a child, and your father gave you a piggyback ride down the hallway. Or perhaps you have experienced the adrenaline rush while driving on the highway when a speed maniac tailgates your car from behind for no apparent reason. These memories can either evoke a sense of nostalgia or in the tailgating instance, anger or anxiety. However, in the world of cybersecurity, piggybacking and tailgating holds a vastly different connotation.

In the realm of digital security, piggybacking and tailgating represent insidious tactics employed by malicious actors through forms of social engineering, seeking access to sensitive information, systems, or networks. These tactics are akin to unwelcome guests slipping into a secured facility, exploiting the trust and access granted to others, and potentially wreaking havoc within the confines of a digital environment. Now let us break it down for you.


Piggybacking, in the context of cybersecurity, refers to the act of an unauthorised individual gaining access to a secured area or system by exploiting the legitimate access granted to an authorised user. It is akin to an impostor slipping past security personnel by blending in with a group of employees while concealing their true identity and intentions.

This technique often involves social engineering tactics, such as manipulation, deception, or exploiting human vulnerabilities. If you have seen the movie "Catch Me If You Can" starring Leonardo DiCaprio, you will likely recall the clever character of the infamous con artist Frank Abagnale. In the film, Abagnale infiltrates restricted areas at airports and hospitals by posing as a doctor or pilot, using deception and cunning to commit financial fraud.

These types of criminals present a significant challenge for companies, as they frequently act with criminal intent. Those seeking unauthorised access often appear well-dressed and may pose as customers to deceive security personnel, just like Frank Abagnale.


Tailgating, on the other hand, is a method used by attackers to gain unauthorised access to a secure area by physically following closely behind an authorised person. It is akin to a stranger tailgating your car on the highway, only in this case, the stakes are much higher as the intruder aims to breach digital defences.

In cybersecurity, tailgating often involves individuals exploiting gaps in physical security. For example, an attacker might wait for an employee to enter a secure facility by swiping their access card, then slip in behind them before the door fully closes. Once inside, the attacker may have unrestricted access to critical systems and sensitive data, potentially leading to data breaches, financial losses, or other cybercrimes. Additionally, they may install surveillance cameras in restricted areas, enabling them to monitor activities and gather valuable intelligence.

Exploiting Trust and Kindness

Those who might engage in either piggybacking or tailgating can encompass a range of individuals, including former employees with grievances, criminals, vandals, pranksters, and anyone harbouring concerns about an employee or the organisation. Consequently, individuals involved in either one may have both benign and malicious intentions. Nonetheless, both categories have the potential to disrupt business operations, inflict harm, generate unanticipated expenses, and introduce safety hazards due to their failure to adhere to established security procedures when accessing restricted areas.

The question that is currently at hand is, how can some individuals be susceptible to seemingly straightforward schemes? Well, it is essential to recognise that these attacks, though they may appear simplistic, can be surprisingly effective. Cybersecurity experts even claimed that these two are some of the widely used social engineering attacks.

Criminals employ a range of strategies, frequently capitalising on individuals' goodwill or their aversion to confrontational situations. Unfortunately, these attackers can manipulate human kindness and astuteness to their advantage. They prey on these "vulnerabilities" to infiltrate secure zones, thereby jeopardising valuable corporate assets and confidential information. Those seeking unauthorised access are acutely aware of these weaknesses and skillfully leverage them to attain their objectives.

Here are some common strategies employed in piggybacking and tailgating attacks:

  • Exploiting Courteous Gestures: Malicious actors may capitalise on a person's kindness by simply walking in when someone holds a door open for them. This exploit is as straightforward as it sounds.

  • Impersonating Delivery Personnel: Attackers often pose as delivery drivers bringing packages or food, gaining entry while appearing to be legitimate service providers.

  • False Claims of Employment: Some attackers claim to work within the building and assert that they left their identification at home. This assertion can persuade security personnel or employees to grant access.

  • Disguising as a Vendor: Attackers sometimes adopt the guise of service workers or IT consultants, leveraging this façade to enter the premises undetected.

  • Masquerading as an Executive or VIP: In certain instances, assailants may impersonate high-ranking executives or individuals of importance who are in a hurry, exploiting the urgency of the situation.

Mitigating the Threats: A Comprehensive Approach

Piggybacking and tailgating attacks serve as prime illustrations of significant security breaches, requiring individuals to exercise utmost caution in preventing their escalation, as the depth of still waters often conceals hidden dangers. While it may be impossible to completely eliminate the risk of piggybacking and tailgating attacks, a comprehensive approach can significantly reduce their likelihood of success. Here are essential steps for organisations and individuals:

For Organisations:

  • Education and Awareness: Begin by educating employees about piggybacking and tailgating attacks, emphasising how to recognise and promptly report suspicious incidents.

  • Physical Security Measures: Implement robust physical security measures, including access control systems and surveillance cameras, to fortify premises against unauthorised access.

  • Security Policies: Develop and enforce clear and concise security policies and procedures, ensuring that everyone within the organisation is well-versed in their protocols.

  • Regular Security Audits: Conduct periodic security audits to pinpoint vulnerabilities and take swift action to rectify them.

For Individuals:

  • Vigilance: Stay aware of your surroundings when entering restricted areas. Always exercise caution.

  • Door Access: Refrain from holding doors open for unfamiliar individuals, especially in secure and confidential zones.

  • Identity Verification: Before assisting anyone in entering a restricted area, take steps to verify their identity to avoid unwittingly aiding unauthorised access.

  • Prompt Reporting: Report any unusual or suspicious activities promptly to security personnel.

These attacks may seem simple to defend against but once they manage to infiltrate your organisation from under your noses, be prepared to lash out hundreds of thousands or maybe millions in terms of damage.

Threat Actors Know No Boundaries

Evident from all of this is that the realm of cybersecurity extends beyond just online threats; it also encompasses physical vulnerabilities.

Piggybacking and tailgating underscore the fact that malicious actors do not always need to exploit digital vulnerabilities to gain unauthorised access to critical systems and sensitive data. Instead, they can exploit human behaviour and physical access points. The connection between physical and digital security constitutes a critical facet of contemporary cybersecurity, one that may be overlooked.

Cyber attackers recognise the potential weaknesses in both online and offline security and piggybacking and tailgating exemplify their ability to exploit human trust and kindness. Organisations and individuals need to remain vigilant not only against online threats but also against physical security breaches, which in the examples above, can have severe digital consequences. By understanding the interplay between these aspects of security, we can now safely adopt a comprehensive approach to safeguarding our systems and data.

In today's hybrid threat landscape, where both physical and digital security are always at risk, it is imperative for organisations and individuals to address all possible avenues of attack. By doing so, they can better protect their assets and information, reducing the likelihood of breaches, data loss, and financial damage. Combining efforts to strengthen both online and offline security measures is essential in the fight against cyber threats, and this serves as a valuable reminder of the need for this holistic approach.

Always remember to check behind you before opening any doors in a corporate environment. We wouldn't want any unauthorised individuals sneaking into our workspace, would we?

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