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ACSC Essential Eight Cyber Security Guidelines & the Maturity Model (Updated 2024)

While no one set of mitigation strategies are guaranteed to protect against all cyber threats, businesses are recommended to implement eight essential cyber security strategies defined by the ACSC. The ACSC Essential Eight explained.

ACSC Essential 8 Cyber Security Guidelines & the Maturity Model

THE ACSC ESSENTIAL EIGHT EXPLAINED

All businesses operate online, but has your business considered how safe its digital operations are?

Cybersecurity issues are increasing as we continue to rely on the internet, global connectivity and other digital technologies in fact there has been a 600% increase in 2021.  As you expand your online presence, cybersecurity must be a top priority due to the growing number of cyberattacks.

In Australia, the trend towards increased cyber security compliance is undenyable.  Over the past few years, we have seen the introduction of mandatory reporting of data breaches and businesses are now urged to comply with the ACSC Essential Eight.  It is only a matter of time before this becomes mandated for some if not all industries.

The ACSC recommends that all businesses implement the Essential Eight which is more cost effective in terms of time, money and effort than responding to a cyber security event.  With ransomware being reported every 11 seconds, all businesses are at risk.

The Australian Government, led by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), strives to prevent these instances from occurring and assist businesses like yours strengthen their cyber security posture.

As the first line of defence, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) and the ACSC developed the Essential Eight.  By complying with the Essential Eight, you will be in the best position to protect your digital assets against an attack.

ASD Essential 8 Maturity Model Resources

Understand your cyber security posture

Take our Essential Eight self-assessment to see how aligned your business is with the ACSC maturity models.

Define your Essential Eight maturity level

Identify and plan for a target maturity level suitable for your business. Download our Essential Eight Explained eBook to help.

Implement your mitigation strategies

Visit our ACSC Essential 8 Learning Centre with the checklist to help you implement mitigation strategies.

1. What is the ASD Essential Eight?

The Essential Eight is a cybersecurity framework designed by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) to assist Australian businesses in enhancing their cyber defenses. It comprises eight key mitigation strategies that are divided into three main objectives:

  1. Prevent Attacks:

    • Application Whitelisting: To control the execution of unauthorized software.
    • Patch Applications: Regularly update applications to fix security vulnerabilities.
    • Configure Microsoft Office Macro Settings: To block macros from the internet and only allow vetted macros.
    • User Application Hardening: Configure web browsers to block Flash, ads, and Java on the internet.
  2. Limit Attack Impact:

    • Restrict Administrative Privileges: Grant admin rights to only those who need them for their role.
    • Patch Operating Systems: Timely patching of operating systems.
    • Multi-factor Authentication: Implement additional authentication methods to secure sensitive data and systems.
  3. Data Availability:

    • Daily Backups: Ensure important data, software, and configuration settings are backed up daily.

These strategies are not only about preventing cyber attacks but also about limiting the impact if an attack occurs and ensuring that data is available when needed. The Essential Eight Maturity Model provides guidance on implementing these strategies and assessing their effectiveness123.

For Australian businesses, adhering to the Essential Eight is crucial for protecting against various cyber threats and maintaining the integrity of their IT systems. It serves as a baseline for cybersecurity and is recommended for all organizations to implement to the fullest extent possible.

ACSC Essential Eight 8 core mitigation strategies

News: ACSC issues alert to Australian Businesses to adopt a cyber security strategy & federal government announces a $10 billion investment

2. ACSC Essential Eight Maturity Levels Explained

To guide you in the implementation the ACSC has published a maturity scale that helps measure your business’ alignment with each strategy.

  • Level 0 (Immature) – Not aligned with the mitigation strategy (no compliance)
  • Level 1 (Intermittent) – Party aligned with the mitigation strategy (low compliance)
  • Level 2 (Committed)– Mostly aligned with the mitigation strategy (medium compliance)
  • Level 3 (Advanced)– Fully aligned (highly protected) (2)

The ACSC provides a minimum cyber security posture which includes reviewing and enhancing detection, mitigation and response measures.

Our recommendation is to undertake a comprehensive cyber audit to assess your vulnerabilities and cyber gaps.

The results will inform the action and strategy required to mature your cyber security posture as a minimum meet the ACSC Essential Eight requirements but also goes above and beyond.

How to apply the Essential Eight to mature your cybersecurity measures

When implementing the Essential Eight, businesses must first identify a target maturity level that is suitable for their environment and then progressively implement each maturity level until that target is achieved.

The ACSC defined maturity levels so businesses understand what strategies make up Essential Eight to mitigate different levels of cyber threats (or cyber tradecraft).

There are four maturity levels:

The ACSC established 4 maturity levels Maturity Level Zero through to Maturity Level Three. With the exception of Maturity Level Zero, the maturity levels are based on mitigating increasing levels of adversary tradecraft (i.e. tools, tactics, techniques and procedures.

Level 0

Indicating weaknesses in your business’s overall cyber security posture. When exploited, these weaknesses could facilitate the compromise of the confidentiality of their data, or the integrity or availability of their systems and data, as described by the tradecraft and targeting in Maturity Level One below.

Level 1

Appropriate for all Australian businesses that do not have significant uptime, data security or financial protection requirements.

Level 1 maturity indicates your business has a basic level of security to protect itself against a common attack. This maturity level focuses on adversaries who use easily accessible methods to gain control of systems. They may take advantage of common techniques or tools, such as publicly-available exploits or stolen credentials, to gain access. Instead of targeting specific victims, these adversaries look for any vulnerable target and exploit common weaknesses. They often use social engineering techniques to trick users into compromising system security, such as through malicious Microsoft Office macros. If they gain access to an account with special privileges, they will exploit it. Depending on their goals, they may even destroy data, including backups.

Level 2

Appropriate for all Australian businesses that do not have significant uptime, data security or financial protection requirements.

A level 2 protects against adversaries operating with a modest step-up in capability from the previous maturity level 1.

This maturity level focuses on adversaries with slightly advanced capabilities compared to the previous level. They invest more time and effort to bypass security controls and avoid detection. They target credentials through phishing, employ social engineering techniques, and exploit weak multi-factor authentication. These adversaries are selective in their targets but still conservative in their investments. They deceive users with successful phishing attacks and exploit system vulnerabilities like Microsoft Office macros. They exploit accounts with special privileges and may destroy accessible data, including backups.

Level 3

Appropriate for mid-sized and larger businesses with multiple critical systems and large amounts of personally identifiable information or financial data.

This maturity level focuses on adversaries who are highly adaptive and rely less on public tools and techniques. They take advantage of weaknesses in their target’s cybersecurity, such as outdated software or inadequate monitoring, to extend their access, evade detection, and strengthen their presence. They quickly utilize newly available exploits and other techniques to improve their chances of success.

These adversaries are often more focused on specific targets and are willing to invest effort in bypassing unique security controls and policies. For instance, they employ social engineering to deceive users into opening malicious documents and assist in bypassing security measures. They may also steal authentication token values to bypass stronger multi-factor authentication. Once they gain a foothold, adversaries aim to acquire privileged credentials, explore other network areas, and cover their tracks. Depending on their goals, they may even destroy all data, including backups.

Essential Eight Maturity Level Explained

3. Understanding the ACSC Essential Eight: Key Objectives for Australian Businesses

In the digital age, cybersecurity is not just a technical issue but a critical business imperative. The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has developed the Essential Eight—a suite of strategies that form the foundation of a robust cybersecurity posture for Australian businesses. Here, we delve into the key objectives of the Essential Eight and how they serve to fortify businesses against cyber threats.

Objective 1: Fortify Against Malware

The first objective targets the heart of cyber defense—preventing malware from gaining a foothold. This is accomplished through:

  • Application Whitelisting: Ensuring only trusted software runs on systems.
  • Patching Applications: Keeping software up-to-date to close security loopholes.
  • Macro Settings: Tightening controls on Microsoft Office macros to prevent script-based attacks.
  • User Application Hardening: Disabling unnecessary features in applications that could be exploited.

Objective 2: Minimize the Impact of Incidents

Cyber incidents can be damaging, but their impact can be contained. The Essential Eight aims to:

  • Restrict Administrative Privileges: Limiting powerful access rights to reduce the ‘blast radius’ of an attack.
  • Patch Operating Systems: Regularly updating systems to protect against known vulnerabilities.

Objective 3: Ensure Business Resilience

The final objective ensures that businesses can bounce back from cyber incidents with minimal disruption. This involves:

  • Multi-factor Authentication: Adding layers of authentication to protect sensitive systems.
  • Daily Backups: Regularly backing up data to enable swift recovery from data loss events.

By aligning with these objectives, Australian businesses can not only shield themselves from the initial onslaught of cyber attacks but also ensure they have the resilience to recover and maintain business continuity. The Essential Eight is not just a set of guidelines; it’s a commitment to proactive defense and a testament to the importance of cybersecurity in the modern business landscape.

Implementing the Essential Eight is a strategic move that signals to customers, partners, and stakeholders that a business takes its digital responsibilities seriously. It’s an investment in trust, reliability, and the future-proofing of operations in an increasingly interconnected world.


For more insights and detailed analysis on cybersecurity practices, stay tuned to our blog. Together, let’s build a safer digital environment for businesses to thrive.

Note: The information provided here is based on the ACSC’s recommendations as of 2021. For the latest updates and detailed implementation guidance, please refer to the official ACSC website or consult with cybersecurity experts.

Download our ACSC Essential Eight eBook

A guide for small and medium Australian businesses seeking to improve their cyber posture with the ASD Essential 8

Ebook

4. Prioritising the Essential Eight: A Strategic Approach for Australian Businesses

Cybersecurity is a journey, not a destination. For Australian businesses looking to navigate this journey, the Essential Eight provides a map to mitigate cyber threats effectively. Implementing these strategies in order of priority can significantly enhance an organization’s cyber resilience. Here’s how businesses can prioritize the Essential Eight:

1. Start with the Basics: Patching and Application Control

  • Patch Applications: Begin by ensuring that all software is up-to-date with the latest security patches. This is a fundamental step in protecting against known vulnerabilities.
  • Application Whitelisting: Control which applications can run on your systems. This helps prevent unapproved or malicious software from executing.

2. Tighten User Privileges and Configurations

  • Restrict Administrative Privileges: Limit admin rights to those who truly need them. This reduces the risk of attackers gaining control over your systems.
  • User Application Hardening: Harden configurations for applications and disable features that are not necessary for business operations.

3. Strengthen Defenses Against Macro-based Threats

  • Configure Microsoft Office Macro Settings: Disable macros from the internet and only allow vetted macros in trusted locations to run.

4. Implement Robust Authentication Measures

  • Multi-factor Authentication (MFA): Add an extra layer of security by requiring two or more verification methods for user authentication.

5. Ensure System Integrity with Regular OS Updates

  • Patch Operating Systems: Keep your operating systems up-to-date to protect against the latest threats.

6. Establish a Reliable Recovery Plan

  • Daily Backups: Regularly back up data, system configurations, and applications to ensure you can recover quickly from a cyber incident.

By following this prioritized approach, businesses can build a strong foundation for cybersecurity. It’s important to note that while the Essential Eight is presented in a sequence, many of these strategies can and should be implemented concurrently for the best protection.

Remember, cybersecurity is not a one-time effort but an ongoing process that requires vigilance and adaptation to new threats. By prioritizing the Essential Eight, Australian businesses can create a dynamic defense system that evolves with the cyber landscape.


Stay tuned to our blog for more actionable insights and guidance on implementing the Essential Eight and other cybersecurity best practices. Together, we can create a secure digital environment for businesses to operate and grow.

Note: The information provided here is based on the ACSC’s recommendations as of 2021. For the most current strategies and detailed implementation guidance, please refer to the official ACSC website or consult with cybersecurity experts.

Mitigation strategies to reduce vulnerability to cyber threat-Landscape

5. Mandate for Australian Businesses

The Essential Eight mandate for Australian businesses represents a significant step by the government to enhance the nation’s cybersecurity posture. By making these strategies a requirement, the government is not only setting a standard but also emphasizing the importance of cybersecurity in the contemporary business environment.

The mandate serves multiple purposes:

  • Standardization: It creates a uniform approach to cybersecurity across various sectors, ensuring that all entities have a baseline level of defense against cyber threats.
  • Proactivity: The Essential Eight encourages organizations to be proactive rather than reactive in their cybersecurity efforts, promoting a culture of continuous improvement and vigilance.
  • Resilience: By adhering to the Essential Eight, businesses can improve their resilience to cyber incidents, ensuring they can maintain operations and protect sensitive data.
  • Trust: Compliance with the mandate can enhance trust among customers, partners, and stakeholders, demonstrating a commitment to protecting against cyber risks.

For businesses, the mandate is not just about compliance; it’s an opportunity to review and strengthen their cybersecurity frameworks. It’s a call to action to take cybersecurity seriously and to invest in measures that will safeguard their digital assets now and in the future.

In conclusion, the Essential Eight mandate is a pivotal move towards a more secure digital economy in Australia. It’s an initiative that supports businesses in their cybersecurity journey, providing clear guidelines for protecting against the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats. As businesses comply with the mandate, they contribute to the collective security of the nation’s digital infrastructure, making Australia a safer place to conduct business online.

Conclusion & Next Steps

Combining the experience of a dedicated cyber security team, as well as hands-on security specialists, Kaine Mathrick Tech has one of the most mature and highly credited managed cyber security solutions in Australia.

A comprehensive cyber security strategy and implementation plan will help ensure your business have the most appropriate people, processes and technology to help you mitigate or at worst recover fast from a cyber attack.

Reach out for a no obligation discussion today! Contact Us

Essential Eight Frequently Asked Questions

What ACSC Essential Eight maturity level should I target?

  • Maturity Level One is generally suitable for small to medium enterprises,
  • Maturity Level Two is suitable for large enterprises
  • Maturity Level Three may be suitable for critical infrastructure providers and other organisations that operate in high threat environments.

Kaine Mathrick tech can help you achieve any Essential Eight Maturity Level.

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ACSC Essential 8 everything you need to know
Article Name
ACSC Essential 8 everything you need to know
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While no one set of mitigation strategies are guaranteed to protect against all cyber threats, businesses are recommended to implement eight essential cyber security strategies defined by the ACSC. The Essential Eight explained.
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Publisher Name
Kaine Mathrick Tech
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Examples of businesses that have successfully embraced the Essential Eight

While specific details about organisations and their cybersecurity practices can be sensitive, there are public case studies and reports that highlight how some organisations have successfully embraced the Essential Eight framework.

  • Kaine Mathrick Tech is currently a Level 3 Maturity Level Essential Eight.  As an MSSP, it is critical that we comply to all of the relevant cyber regulations.  Specifically, KM Tech:
    • Application Control: Ensure only approved applications can execute, and control the installation, spread, and execution of malicious code.
    • Patch Applications: Patch or mitigate vulnerabilities in applications within a timeframe that is commensurate with the risk.
    • Configure Microsoft Office Macro Settings: Only allow vetted macros to run from trusted locations, and prevent users from enabling macros in documents obtained from the internet.
    • User Application Hardening: Configure web browsers to block web advertisements and Java from the internet, and disable unnecessary features in Microsoft Office (such as OLE), web browsers, and PDF viewers.
    • Restrict Administrative Privileges: Manage privileged accounts based on duties and revalidate the need for privileges regularly.
    • Patch Operating Systems: Patch or mitigate vulnerabilities in operating systems within a timeframe that is commensurate with the risk.
    • Multi-factor Authentication: Apply multi-factor authentication to all external network access and all access to sensitive information and systems.
    • Daily Backups: Backup important data, software, and configuration settings daily, and ensure backups are protected from ransomware.
    • These controls provide KM Tech with a more formalised and comprehensive approach to cybersecurity, significantly reducing the risk exposure and improving resilience against common cyber threats123. Implementing these controls at Maturity Level 3 indicates a commitment to a robust cybersecurity posture and a proactive stance against evolving cyber threats.
  • EngiTech, a small-to-medium-sized Australian engineering company, is one such example. They recognized the importance of the ACSC’s Essential Eight Maturity Model and transformed their cybersecurity infrastructure to align with it. By doing so, they aimed not just to improve their digital defenses but also to enhance their overall business resilience against cyber threats.
  • Fortinet, a global leader in broad, integrated, and automated cybersecurity solutions. They have bolstered the implementation of the Essential Eight framework with advanced technologies and expertise, showcasing how integrating the Essential Eight into their cybersecurity strategy can significantly enhance an organization’s defense capabilities2.

These examples demonstrate that organizations of various sizes and sectors are taking proactive steps to implement the Essential Eight, recognizing its value in protecting against the evolving landscape of cyber threats. It’s a testament to the framework’s effectiveness and its growing adoption among Australian businesses committed to cybersecurity excellence.

Summary
ACSC Essential 8 everything you need to know
Article Name
ACSC Essential 8 everything you need to know
Description
While no one set of mitigation strategies are guaranteed to protect against all cyber threats, businesses are recommended to implement eight essential cyber security strategies defined by the ACSC. The Essential Eight explained.
Author
Publisher Name
Kaine Mathrick Tech
Publisher Logo

Additional steps are needed to progress from Level 0 to Level 1 and Level 1 to Level 2

To progress from Level 0 to Level 1 in the Essential Eight Maturity Model, businesses need to start developing formal processes and procedures for implementing the Essential Eight strategies. At Level 0, any implementation is ad-hoc and inconsistent, so moving to Level 1 involves:

  • Identifying which of the Essential Eight strategies are currently being implemented and to what extent.
  • Developing a plan to address gaps in the implementation of the Essential Eight strategies.
  • Starting to implement the Essential Eight strategies in a more structured and consistent manner.
  • Establishing basic cybersecurity policies and ensuring that they are communicated across the organization12.

Progressing from Level 1 to Level 2 requires businesses to have established formal processes and procedures for implementing the Essential Eight strategies. Implementation should be consistent across the organization and integrated into the organization’s operations. This includes:

  • Ensuring that the Essential Eight strategies are implemented consistently across all systems and not just in certain areas.
  • Integrating the Essential Eight strategies into the daily operations of the organization.
  • Regularly reviewing and updating the cybersecurity policies to ensure they remain effective and address new threats.
  • Training staff to understand their roles in the cybersecurity posture of the organization.

It’s important to note that while the Essential Eight strategies can be implemented in a sequence, many of these strategies should be implemented concurrently to provide the best protection. Organizations should aim to achieve the same maturity level across all eight mitigation strategies before moving onto higher maturity levels12.

Summary
ACSC Essential 8 everything you need to know
Article Name
ACSC Essential 8 everything you need to know
Description
While no one set of mitigation strategies are guaranteed to protect against all cyber threats, businesses are recommended to implement eight essential cyber security strategies defined by the ACSC. The Essential Eight explained.
Author
Publisher Name
Kaine Mathrick Tech
Publisher Logo

Summary
ACSC Essential 8 everything you need to know
Article Name
ACSC Essential 8 everything you need to know
Description
While no one set of mitigation strategies are guaranteed to protect against all cyber threats, businesses are recommended to implement eight essential cyber security strategies defined by the ACSC. The Essential Eight explained.
Author
Publisher Name
Kaine Mathrick Tech
Publisher Logo

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ACSC Essential 8 everything you need to know
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ACSC Essential 8 everything you need to know
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While no one set of mitigation strategies are guaranteed to protect against all cyber threats, businesses are recommended to implement eight essential cyber security strategies defined by the ACSC. The Essential Eight explained.
Author
Publisher Name
Kaine Mathrick Tech
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