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Unmasking Cyber Threats in 2023: What is Tailgating in Cyber Security?

Cybersecurity concept with digital lock and hand silhouette.

The digital era has ushered in many advancements and conveniences that have revolutionised daily life. However, it has also birthed a new breed of threats lurking in the cyber world’s shadows. One such threat is ‘tailgating’ in cyber security. 

But what is tailgating in cyber security? This article will delve into this question, shedding light on this often overlooked yet significant cyber risk.

Cyber threats constantly evolve, posing a growing challenge for individuals and organisations. These threats range from relatively benign spam emails to malicious attacks such as phishing, ransomware, and tailgating. Among these, tailgating is a particularly insidious cyber threat that exploits human trust and the desire for convenience.

Tailgating, also known as ‘piggybacking’, involves an unauthorised person gaining access to a restricted area by following closely behind an authorised person. In the cyber world, tailgating takes a similar form, with a cybercriminal gaining unauthorised access to a network or device by exploiting the legitimate accesses of trusted users.

Understanding Tailgating in Cyber Security

In cyber security, tailgating involves a cybercriminal exploiting a legitimate user’s access to infiltrate a network, system or device. This can happen in several ways. For example, a hacker might stealthily ‘tailgate’ onto a secure server by copying a user’s login credentials during a legitimate session. Alternatively, a cybercriminal may trick a user into unknowingly granting them access by sending a phishing email disguised as a legitimate request for information.

Tailgating is a significant threat because it bypasses many standard security measures. Since cybercriminals exploit legitimate access, they often evade detection systems designed to identify unauthorised users. Moreover, once inside the network or device, the tailgater has the same access privileges as the user they are impersonating, allowing them to carry out a wide range of malicious activities.

Despite its seriousness, tailgating is often overlooked in discussions of cyber threats. This is partly due to its subtle nature and its reliance on exploiting human behaviours rather than technical vulnerabilities. Nevertheless, understanding what is tailgating in cyber security is crucial for developing effective defences against this threat.

The Dangers of Tailgating in Cyber Security 

The dangers of tailgating in cyber security are manifold. First and foremost, it directly threatens the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information – the three pillars of information security. A tailgater can steal sensitive information, alter data, or disrupt services by gaining unauthorised access to a system or network.

Beyond these immediate threats, tailgating also has broader implications for cyber security. For instance, it undermines trust in digital systems, as users may need clarification about the security of their data and the reliability of digital services. Additionally, tailgating can cause organisations significant financial and reputational damage, especially if the breach leads to a data leak or service disruption.

In a world where data is a valuable commodity and digital services are increasingly integral to daily life, the dangers of tailgating cannot be overstated. Yet, despite these risks, many people remain unaware of what is tailgating in cyber security, leaving them vulnerable to this insidious threat.

Real-life Instances of Tailgating in Cyber Security

Tailgating is not just a theoretical threat – it has been implicated in numerous real-world cyber attacks. For example, in 2018, the Marriott hotel chain suffered a massive data breach that exposed the personal information of up to 500 million guests. The breach was attributed to a sophisticated tailgating attack in which cybercriminals accessed the company’s network by impersonating legitimate users.

Another infamous instance of tailgating occurred in 2014 when retail giant Target suffered a data breach that exposed the credit card information of 40 million customers. In this case, the cybercriminals accessed Target’s network by tailgating onto a third-party vendor’s access.

These incidents highlight the genuine dangers of tailgating in cyber security. They also underscore the importance of understanding what is tailgating in cyber security and implementing robust measures to prevent it.

Preventing Tailgating: Cyber Security Best Practices

Preventing tailgating in cyber security involves a combination of technical measures, policy interventions, and user education. On the technical side, measures such as two-factor authentication, session timeouts, and regular password changes can limit the opportunities for tailgating. Additionally, network monitoring tools can help to detect unusual activity that may indicate a tailgating attempt.

On the policy side, organisations should implement clear policies on access and authentication. This includes defining who has access to what information and systems and establishing procedures for granting, changing, and revoking accesses. Policies should also cover reporting suspected tailgating attempts and responding to confirmed incidents.

User education is also a crucial aspect of preventing tailgating. Users should know what is tailgating in cyber security and how it can occur. They should also be trained on best practices for secure behaviour, such as not sharing passwords, not clicking on suspicious links, and reporting any unusual activity.

Advanced Cyber Security Measures to Combat Tailgating

In addition to these basic best practices, advanced cyber security measures can help combat tailgating. For instance, artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies can analyse user behaviour and identify anomalies that may indicate a tailgating attempt.

Biometric authentication, such as fingerprint or facial recognition, can provide an additional layer of security by ensuring that the person logging in is the authorised user. Similarly, blockchain technology can create an immutable record of accesses, making it harder for a tailgater to cover their tracks.

While these advanced measures can significantly enhance security, they should be seen as something other than a silver bullet. Instead, they should be used with the best practices and policy measures discussed above.

The Role of Employee Education in Preventing Tailgating

The importance of user education to protect agains Tailgating.

As previously mentioned, employee education plays a crucial role in preventing tailgating. However, it’s worth reiterating just how important this aspect is. After all, the most sophisticated security systems in the world can be undone by a single user who unwittingly grants access to a tailgater.

Employee education should cover what tailgating is in cyber security and how to recognise and respond to potential tailgating attempts. This includes being suspicious of unexpected requests for information or access, checking the authenticity of emails and websites, and reporting suspicious activity.

Moreover, employee education should be an ongoing process, not a one-off event. As cyber threats evolve, so too should the training that employees receive. Regular updates and refresher courses can help to ensure that employees remain vigilant against tailgating and other cyber threats.

Tailgating and the Future of Cyber Security

Tailgating will likely remain a significant threat to cyber security. As digital systems become increasingly complex and interconnected, the opportunities for tailgating will only multiply. Moreover, with the rise of remote working and the Internet of Things, the boundaries of networks are expanding, creating new entry points for tailgaters.

However, the future of cyber security is not all doom and gloom. Advances in technology and practices are providing new ways to combat tailgating and other cyber threats. Moreover, awareness of what is tailgating in cyber security is growing, leading to more robust defences and more informed users.

Nevertheless, the fight against tailgating will require ongoing vigilance and adaptation. As the threat landscape changes, so too must the defences against it.

Expert Opinions on Tailgating in Cyber Security

Experts in cyber security are unanimous in their view that tailgating is a significant threat that requires serious attention. They emphasise the importance of understanding what is tailgating in cyber security and implementing robust measures to prevent it.

For instance, Dr Jane LeClair, the Chief Operating Officer of the National Cybersecurity Institute, states that “tailgating is a serious threat that exploits the human element of security. It’s important to educate users about this threat and to implement measures to detect and prevent it.”

Similarly, Kevin Mitnick, a renowned security consultant and former hacker, argues that “tailgating is one of the most effective ways to bypass security measures. It’s essential to be aware of this threat and to take steps to prevent it.”

These expert opinions underline the significance of tailgating and the importance of taking it seriously.


In conclusion, tailgating is a significant cyber threat that exploits human behaviours and the desire for convenience. Understanding what is tailgating in cyber security is crucial for developing effective defences against this threat. These defences should involve a combination of technical measures, policy interventions, and user education.

While tailgating presents a significant challenge, advancements in technology and practices provide new ways to combat this threat. However, the fight against tailgating will require ongoing vigilance and adaptation. As the digital landscape evolves, so too must the defences against tailgating.

Remember, the first step to preventing tailgating is understanding what it is. Individuals and organisations can protect themselves against this insidious cyber threat by staying informed and vigilant.

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