What is Piggybacking in Cyber Security? Definition, Types & Prevention

What is Piggybacking in Cyber Security? Definition, Types & Prevention

You arrive at work, coffee in hand, ready to start the day. You pull out your keycard and hold it up to the sensor by the front door. With a satisfying beep, the light turns green, and you hear the door unlock. As you walk inside, you hold the door open for your coworker walking in behind you. A perfectly innocuous interaction, right? Unfortunately, this kind of “Piggybacking,” as it‘s known in cybersecurity, can be exploited by bad actors to gain unauthorized building access and wreak havoc on company systems and data.

Piggybacking, using someone else‘s authorized credentials or access to slip through cyber defenses undetected, is an important threat to both physical and digital security that organizations must understand to properly defend against it.

In this article, we‘ll explore what exactly Piggybacking is, how it works to bypass security measures, and most importantly, what can be done to prevent it.

What is Piggybacking in Cyber Security?

Piggybacking is a type of social engineering attack where an unauthorized person gains access to a restricted system or physical space by taking advantage of a security weakness. The attacker uses the credentials or access rights of an authorized user to bypass security measures.

For example, an attacker may wait outside a building and follow an employee with an access card through a secured door that requires badge access. An attacker could steal someone‘s login credentials to gain access to a computer system or application.

Piggybacking exploits human tendencies like being helpful by holding a door open for someone behind you. It relies on tricking authorized users into unintentionally granting access.

Piggybacking is a way for attackers to bypass physical or digital security controls by sneakily capitalizing on the access of legitimate users. It shows the importance of being vigilant about access policies and not inadvertently enabling unauthorized systems or building entry.

How does Piggybacking work?

The basic steps involved in a Piggybacking attack are:

  1. Physical Access: The attacker first gains physical access to the premises of the target organization. This is often done by blending in with employees or visitors, tailgating authorized persons through secured doors, etc.
  1. Observing Authentication: The attacker then observes an authorized person authenticating to a restricted system. This could involve watching someone log into a computer, use a security badge/access card, or enter a password or PIN code.
  1. Mimicking Credentials: The attacker obtains the login credentials by directly looking over the victim‘s shoulder or using video cameras, keyloggers, or other surveillance methods. The credentials obtained are then used by the attacker to gain access.
  1. Accessing the System: With the stolen login credentials, the attacker can now log into the restricted system and access confidential data, install malware, or carry out other nefarious activities.
  1. Covering Tracks: To avoid early detection, the attacker may use technical tricks like deleting access logs, editing system files, etc., to cover their tracks.
  1. Maintaining Access: In some cases, the attacker may even install backdoors or create new user accounts to maintain long-term unauthorized access to the system.

Examples of Piggybacking

Piggybacking takes advantage of Wi-Fi networks that are either unprotected or have weak security protections. Below are some more details on how Wi-Fi Piggybacking commonly occurs:

  • Unprotected businesses: Many small businesses don‘t password-protect their Wi-Fi networks. This leaves them vulnerable to piggybackers who can simply connect to the open network and use it without permission. The business may not even realize its network is being used by unauthorized people. It‘s important for all businesses, even small ones like coffee shops, to password-protect their networks.
  • Publicly available passwords: Some establishments, like coffee shops, will print the Wi-Fi password somewhere visible, like on a chalkboard or receipt. While meant to be helpful for customers, this allows anyone nearby to easily see and note down the password. They can then continue using the network even after leaving the premises without the business‘s knowledge or consent. Businesses should avoid publicly displaying passwords.
  • Personal hotspots: When people use their phones as personal hotspots in public places, they often don‘t password-protect the network. This oversight allows anyone close by to detect the unsecured network and connect to it to access the internet. Always use a strong, unique password when setting up a personal hotspot to prevent unauthorized access.
  • Home routers: Many people use default or weak passwords on their home routers that are easy to crack with password-hacking tools. A piggybacker in range of the network can gain access and use the homeowner‘s internet without their knowledge. It‘s important to set a strong and unique password when setting up your home router to prevent unauthorized access.

By using strong unique passwords and avoiding publicly displaying password information, businesses and individuals can reduce their risk. Proper Wi-Fi security is important to prevent unauthorized and often unseen usage of networks and internet connections. 

Preventing Wi-Fi Piggybacking Attacks

Wi-Fi Piggybacking occurs when an unauthorized user gains access to a wireless internet connection by intercepting network signals. This can allow them to steal bandwidth or sensitive data. Luckily, you can take steps to secure your Wi-Fi network against piggybacking attempts.

Create Long, Complex Passwords

  • Your Wi-Fi password should be at least 10 characters long. The longer, the better.
  • Use a random mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Avoid common words or personal information.
  • Avoid using the same password for multiple accounts. Unique passwords are harder to crack.

Keep Passwords Private

  • Never share your Wi-Fi password publicly or on social media.
  • Only give the password to people you trust. Don‘t let it fall into the wrong hands.
  • Consider using a password manager to generate and store secure passwords.

Change Password After Security Breaches

  • Immediately change your password if you suspect a breach. This will revoke access for anyone who obtained the old password.
  • Change your Wi-Fi password every 3-6 months.
  • Use a password manager to help you keep track of new passwords.

Check Connected Devices Frequently

  • Log into your router admin page and look at connected devices regularly.
  • Take note of any unknown or suspicious devices.
  • Verify that all identified devices should have access.

Remove Unauthorized Devices  

  • If you see an unrecognized device, disconnect it immediately.
  • Consider blocking its MAC address to prevent future connections.
  • This will revoke access for opportunistic piggybackers.

Additional Tips

  • Use WPA2 or WPA3 encryption on your network.
  • Hide your SSID so only authorized users can connect.
  • Use MAC address filtering to limit connections.
  • Update router firmware and security settings regularly.


While piggybacking may not seem as sophisticated as hacking, it remains a serious security vulnerability. Organizations must train employees to be vigilant and adhere to access policies at all times. They should implement multi-factor authentication mechanisms wherever possible to prevent unauthorized piggybacking.

Individuals should also be alert when entering restricted areas and not allow unknown people to tailgate behind them. With proper cyber hygiene practices, the risk of piggybacking can be significantly reduced.

To learn more about securing your organization from cyber threats like piggybacking, enroll in CCS Learning Academy‘s comprehensive cybersecurity courses

Industry experts design our programs to provide the latest knowledge and training on protecting critical systems and data. We offer flexible online classes for beginners and advanced cybersecurity professionals alike.

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Q1: What is Piggybacking in Cyber Security?

Answer: Piggybacking in cyber security refers to unauthorized access to a network, system, or data by exploiting a legitimate user’s credentials or session. This can occur when an attacker mimics or uses the credentials of an authorized user to gain unauthorized access.

Q2: How Does Piggybacking Differ from Hacking?

Answer: While both involve unauthorized access, piggybacking specifically relies on leveraging legitimate users’ access, often without their knowledge. Hacking, in a broader sense, encompasses various methods to breach defenses, which may or may not involve impersonating a legitimate user.

Q3: What are the Common Types of Piggybacking in Cyber Security?

Answer: Common types include:

  • Tailgating: Physically following an authorized person into a restricted area.
  • Wi-Fi Piggybacking: Unauthorized access to a wireless network.

Session Hijacking: Exploiting a valid computer session to gain unauthorized access to information or services.

Q4: Why is Piggybacking a Serious Security Threat?

Answer: Piggybacking is serious because it exploits legitimate access, making detection harder. It can lead to data breaches, and loss of sensitive information, and can compromise the overall security of a network or system.

Q5: How Can Organizations Prevent Piggybacking?

Answer: Prevention strategies include:

  • Strong Authentication Protocols: Implementing multi-factor authentication.
  • Regular Security Training: Educating employees about security risks and preventive measures.
  • Monitoring and Logging: Keeping track of access logs and monitoring network activity.

Physical Security Measures: Ensuring secure access to physical premises.

Q6: Can Piggybacking Occur in Both Physical and Digital Environments?

Answer: Yes, piggybacking can occur in both environments. Physically, it involves unauthorized individuals gaining access to restricted areas, and digitally, it involves accessing networks, systems, or data.

Q7: What Role Does Employee Awareness Play in Preventing Piggybacking?

Answer: Employee awareness is crucial. Educating staff about the risks and signs of piggybacking, and enforcing policies on access control and security practices, can significantly reduce the risk.

Q8: Are Small Businesses at Risk of Piggybacking Attacks?

Answer: Yes, small businesses are at risk. They may be seen as easier targets due to potentially lower security measures compared to larger organizations.

Q9: How Does Piggybacking Impact Data Privacy?

Answer: Piggybacking can lead to unauthorized access to personal and sensitive data, violating privacy and potentially leading to legal and reputational consequences.

Q10: Can Software Tools Help in Detecting Piggybacking?

Answer: Yes, various security tools, including intrusion detection systems, network monitoring tools, and access management solutions, can help in identifying and preventing piggybacking activities.