The threat of tailgating in social engineering attacks comes from unauthorized individuals attempting to sneak in behind authorized personnel or convince staff of their legitimacy to access a restricted area (e.g., server room, employee workstations). Tailgating is unique among cyberattack methods as it requires an in-person actor attempting to bypass physical protections on an organization’s premises.
Tailgating in Social Engineering Attacks
Social engineering attacks rely on manipulating human psychology for their effectiveness, whether a phishing email mimics legitimate communication or an intruder attempts to tailgate. Tailgating is a form of social engineering that allows hackers to gain access to restricted area without proper authentication. Protecting your organization from tailgating attacks requires:
- Understanding what tailgating attacks are and common examples
- Conducting regular security awareness training
- Implementing robust identity and access management (IAM)
- Establishing rapid incident response procedures
Tailgating Attack Examples
Referring to these threats as “tailgating computer attacks” can be somewhat misleading. Intruders may use tailgating to target physical IT infrastructure or access endpoints connected to an organization’s network. Still, the attack method itself relies on a person gaining physical entry to restricted zones.
Common tailgating attack examples include:
- “Hold the door” – An attacker pretends to be a coworker and asks someone entering physical premises to hold open a door. The attacker may claim they’ve forgotten their ID card or loiter around accessible break areas and even engage in conversation with organization staff to further the perception that they are a fellow employee.
- Delivery or Vendor Impersonation – An attacker pretends to be delivering supplies, packages, food, or some other item and requests entry.
- Borrowed Devices – An attacker may ask to borrow an employee’s laptop or mobile device, perhaps claiming their battery died. While using the device, the attacker can install malicious software or preserve an access method for later (e.g., copy user credentials)
“Tailgating” vs. “Piggybacking”
Tailgating and piggybacking, as the names suggest, rely on following an authorized user into a restricted area. The minor differentiation between the two terms comes from the authorized user’s awareness of the intrusion attempt. Someone who may fall victim to a “piggybacking” attack knows that another individual is following their entry, whereas the authorized person may not be aware of their trailer during tailgating attempts.
However, it’s important to note that the terms may be used interchangeably in many instances.
Preventing Tailgating Attacks
The best approach your organization can take to neutralizing social engineering attacks—since humans don’t have security settings to configure—is to educate employees on recognizing threat indicators and implement strict digital and physical authentication policies. Your organization also must have a rapid incident response plan in place should an intruder successfully breach physical perimeters by employing tailgating methods.
Security Awareness Training
Every organization should regularly conduct cybersecurity awareness training for their employees; brief inclusions during onboarding aren’t sufficient. Employees need to know how to recognize potential attacks and report them to the proper security personnel to initiate response procedures. As such, training topics should include phishing and tailgating.
However, staying up-to-date and conducting training for your employees may overburden your security team. If daily cybersecurity tasks already consume enough of your team’s bandwidth, you should consider contracting with an expert, such as RSI Security, to conduct your employee training. In addition to guided training, you can test your employees on their knowledge retention with simulated attacks.
Phishing simulations send fake social engineering attacks to your employees to test whether they can recognize common threat indicators. Employee responses are collected and analyzed to determine if there are any recurring vulnerabilities and refine training further.
Identity and Access Management
Identity and access management systems oversee user authentication and authorization. User authentication is most recognized as the standard login method requiring a username and password to verify an individual’s identity. Authorizations are the access rights and privileges granted to users according to their job responsibilities.
If you regard each organization’s IT environment as a separate country, authentication is analogous to showing your passport at the border; your authorizations consist of what areas of the country you may access and the activities you may engage in once inside.
IAM systems provide a critical defense against tailgating social engineering attacks by requiring individuals to verify their identities at all physical and digital entry points. While most IAM systems focus on digital access, many still integrate with physical security systems and procedures—such as swiping an ID badge or biometric recognition—that should deter tailgaters’ on-premise access attempts.
Rapid Incident Response
Organizations need to establish a rapid incident response plan should a tailgater successfully breach your organization’s physical perimeter or security efforts and restrict access to specific areas. Your security team needs to be notified if an employee suspects someone has managed to bypass physical protections and when abnormal user activity occurs within the network.
Some organizations outsource this cybersecurity effort to experts that offer managed detection and response services. Your security team can receive immediate notice when continuous scanning reveals a threat or vulnerability and execute your defined response plan to mitigate the threat, identify root causes, recover any services and operations, and prevent a recurrence.
Stop Tailgaters Short
The inclusion of tailgating in social engineering attack methods creates vulnerabilities wherever and however your employees physically interact. Prevention requires a comprehensive cybersecurity plan that includes employee security awareness training, IAM systems and processes, and rapid incident response.
RSI Security can help your organization remain protected through our full suite of managed security services. However, emerging attack methods continually advance and pose new or adapted threats. Therefore, your cybersecurity efforts need to keep pace.
To learn more about managed services and educational training that help prevent tailgating computer attacks, contact RSI Security today!
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