What is ACSC Essential 8?
When it comes to cybersecurity, organisations need to be proactive in implementing strategies to mitigate cybersecurity incidents. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) reported that 42% of data breaches from January 2023 to June 2023 resulted from cybersecurity incidents. In February 2017, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) developed and introduced a cybersecurity framework called the Essential Eight. This framework was designed to bolster cybersecurity defences and safeguard against cyber-attacks and threats.
The ACSC Essential Eight (Australian Cyber Security Centre Essential Eight) is a set of eight cybersecurity strategies and recommendations to help organisations enhance their cybersecurity posture and protect them from the increasing risks of security breaches, ransomware attacks, and other malicious activities. These strategies are based on extensive analysis of cyber incidents and are designed to address common security vulnerabilities and threats.
Is ACSC Essential 8 mandatory?
The Essential Eight, at Maturity Level 2, is mandatory for all non-corporate Commonwealth entities (NCCEs) in Australia that fall under the purview of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act (PGPA Act), in accordance with PSPF Policy 10. From July 2022, the Protective Security Policy Framework (PSPF) required entities to implement Maturity Level 2 for each of the Essential Eight strategies.
Although it is not mandatory for all organisations in Australia, certain government agencies or specific industries may specify that organisations engaging with them must adhere to the Essential Eight as a component of their contractual commitments or regulatory compliance. Additionally, the government recommends its use as a security measure for enhancing cyber resilience across various sectors.
What are the mitigation strategies included in the Essential Eight?
The Essential 8 cybersecurity strategies provide a comprehensive cybersecurity framework covering various aspects of cybersecurity. It consists of eight security controls that organisations should implement to mitigate cyber threats. These controls are:
Application control is a cybersecurity practice that regulates which software applications are allowed to run on a system that serves as a security control mechanism. It is also known as application whitelisting, allowing only approved and trusted applications to run on your organisation’s systems. It prevents unauthorised or malicious software from running, reducing the risk of malware infections and ensuring that only legitimate software is used. This also helps organisations maintain better control over their software environment.
Patching applications ensures all software applications have the latest security updates and patches to fix known vulnerabilities. By keeping software updated, organisations can significantly reduce the attack surface as it makes it much harder for attackers to find and exploit weaknesses.
Configure Microsoft Office Macro Settings
Configuring Microsoft Office applications blocks macros from the internet and only allows macros from trusted locations. It mitigates the risk of malicious macros embedded in documents, particularly in phishing emails, from executing and potentially harming the system.
User Application Hardening
User application hardening involves implementing additional security measures within individual software applications used within an organisation. These measures may include turning off unnecessary features or functionalities like macro functionality, automatic downloads, auto-updating features, and password saving that attackers could exploit. Businesses can reduce their attack surface and improve overall system security by limiting the use of specific web browsers, email clients, and multimedia applications.
Restrict Administrative Privileges
Restricting administrative privileges is crucial in preventing unauthorised access and minimising potential damage caused by insider threats or external attacks that manage to breach other security controls. Limiting administrative rights ensures that only authorised personnel can access critical system functions while reducing the likelihood of accidental misconfigurations or intentional abuse.
Patch operating systems
Regularly applying security patches and updates to the operating systems of all devices within the organisation makes it more difficult for attackers to find and exploit weaknesses. Up-to-date systems are a critical defence against OS vulnerabilities, significantly reducing their susceptibility to cyberattack exploitation.
Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
Implementing MFA for access to sensitive systems and data enhances authentication security. As MFA requires users to provide multiple verification forms, such as a password and a one-time code, even if an attacker has stolen a user’s password, they won’t be able to access sensitive information without additional verification.
Regularly backing up critical data ensures that backups are secure, isolated from potential threats, and quickly restored when needed. Backups are crucial for data recovery in case of data loss, ransomware attacks, hardware failures, or other incidents.
What are the maturity levels of Essential Eight?
As of May 2023, the Essential Eight model is structured into four maturity levels, each representing a different level of security control implementation. The new Essential Eight maturity model was designed to support the organisations in implementing the Essential Eight. The maturity levels range from level zero to level three, with level three being the highest level of maturity.
Maturity level 0
An organisation needs more cyber security practices at this level as there are weaknesses in the organisation’s overall cyber security posture. The organisation may react to incidents as they occur rather than proactively addressing vulnerabilities. At this level, organisations typically lack comprehensive security tools and practices; however, they may still use basic tools like antivirus software, firewalls, and intrusion detection systems.
Maturity level 1
Organisations have a basic level of security in maturity level one. They are developing foundational cyber security practices and implementing some of the Essential Eight strategies. At this level, employ basic security tools such as antivirus, firewalls, intrusion detection, and password policies while beginning to establish foundational cybersecurity practices. They need a comprehensive cyber security program to strengthen their defences further.
Maturity level 2
Maturity level two signifies that an organisation has established a more mature cyber security program. They have implemented most Essential Eight strategies and actively managed their security posture. They focus on mitigating targeted attacks from cyber-security adversaries. At this level, they use security tools like threat detection, Security Information and Event Management (SIEM), Data Loss Prevention (DLP), and automation while actively managing their security posture.
Maturity level 3
Maturity level three represents the highest security maturity level, and organisations have fully optimised their cyber security practices. They have implemented all Essential Eight strategies effectively and continuously improve their security posture, including proactive threat hunting, advanced monitoring, and a solid organisational security culture. They employ a comprehensive suite of advanced security tools and practices, including threat intelligence platforms, Security Automation and Orchestration (SOAR), User and Entity Behavior Analytics (UEBA), continuous monitoring, and more.
Benefits of Implementing ACSC Essential 8
- ACSC Essential Eight prepares organisations to prevent, detect, and respond to potential cyberattacks proactively.
- It establishes a solid foundation to safeguard sensitive data using multi-factor authentication (MFA) and reduce the risk of cyber attacks targeting critical information.
- It enhances operational resilience by strengthening cybersecurity measures, reducing the likelihood of disruptions, and ensuring business continuity.
- It increases compliance with cybersecurity regulations and standards, ensuring businesses meet legal and industry-specific requirements.
- Effective cybersecurity measures save costs by mitigating the financial impact of cyber incidents, such as data breaches and downtime.
How to Assess the Essential 8?
To assess if your business complies with the Essential 8, you can use the following steps:
Identifying the relevant strategies: The first step is determining which strategies apply to your company. Your IT environment’s size, complexity, and nature will determine this.
Gathering and evaluating evidence: Once the necessary controls have been established, proof must be collected to assess their implementation. The evidence will then be considered to determine whether the strategies are appropriately applied.
Documenting your findings: Once you have assessed the evidence, you must document your findings. This will allow you to track your progress and highlight areas where you can improve.
Taking remedial action: If the results indicate gaps in your compliance with the Essential Eight, you must take steps to correct them. This may include installing new controls, updating current ones, or modifying your rules and processes.
The ACSC has also released The Essential Eight Assessment Process Guide, which includes a template and guide for accessors and helps organisations assess their compliance with the Essential Eight.
Why is ACSC Essential 8 important?
In today’s ever-evolving cyber threat landscape, businesses must stay one step ahead of potential attacks. This is where the ACSC Essential 8 comes into play. It provides guidelines on securing your systems and networks against such threats, minimising the risk of falling victim to extortion attempts and making it much harder for adversaries to compromise an organisation’s security systems. Implementing the recommended security controls empowers organisations to proactively defend against cyberattacks, particularly ransomware attacks and extortion attempts, by providing a robust security framework that helps to identify, prevent and respond to potential cyber threats.
With ransomware attacks becoming increasingly prevalent and complex, the importance of robust cybersecurity measures cannot be overstated. The essential eight cyber security framework serves as a critical baseline that offers a set of best practices, ensuring that organisations comply with essential security standards and regulations to prevent cyber attacks. These measures include patching vulnerabilities, application control, restricting administrative access, and implementing multi-factor authentication. By implementing these measures, organisations can strengthen their resilience against cyber threats.
With a focus on implementing eight fundamental strategies, this framework equips businesses to mitigate cyber risks effectively, enhance operational resilience, and safeguard critical data. The Essential Eight model contains four levels that help organisations improve their cybersecurity practices and reach a high-security maturity level. The model provides a roadmap to evaluate and enhance cybersecurity practices.
Considering the rising numbers of cyber problems like data breaches and ransomware attacks, it’s clear that taking preventive steps in cybersecurity is not just a good idea; it’s necessary. Following the Essential Eight helps you follow the rules and lowers the financial and reputational risks linked to cyber issues.
Contact us to learn more about how you can implement the ACSC Essential Eight to enhance your organisation’s cybersecurity posture. Our dedicated cybersecurity consultants are ready to assist you in navigating the ever-changing landscape of cybersecurity, ensuring that your data, systems, and operations remain secure in the face of evolving cyber risks.