The Essential Eight is a set of cybersecurity strategies developed by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) that guides organisations on best securing their information and communications technology (ICT) systems.
These strategies reduce risk factors associated with the rising number of cyber threats, such as malware attacks, phishing scams, data breaches, and unauthorised access. Recent research shows that the global cost of these cyber threats is expected to reach USD$23.84 trillion by 2027, which proves the need for appropriate measures such as the Essential Eight.
These mitigation measures aim to protect an organisation’s systems from cyberattacks. This article provides an overview and analysis of the ACSC Essential Eight Assessment Process, exploring its content, features, benefits, and potential limitations or pitfalls when using it as part of a cybersecurity risk management process.
Understanding the Essential Eight
The ACSC essential Eight cybersecurity strategies are a collection of eight core measures organisations can implement to protect their data and networks from cyber-attacks. These strategies provide comprehensive coverage for most organisational risks, both on the technical side and regarding human behaviour.
The Essential Eight include the following:
- Application Whitelisting
- Patching Applications and Operating Systems
- Minimising Administrative Privileges
- User Education and Awareness Training
- Malware Defenses
- Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA)
- Restriction of Network Ports, Protocols, and Services
- Controlled Use of Administrator Accounts
Each strategy is tailored towards mitigating specific threats while also being flexible enough to meet the needs of any organisation regardless of size or industry.
ACSC Essential Eight FAQs
Why should I implement the Essential Eight?
Implementing the Essential Eight proactively can be more cost-effective in terms of time, money and effort than having to respond to a large-scale cyber security incident.
What is the Essential Eight Maturity Model?
- The Essential Eight Maturity Model is designed to assist organisations to implement the Essential Eight in a graduated manner based upon different levels of adversary tradecraft and targeting.
- The different maturity levels can also be used to provide a high-level indication of an organisation’s cyber security maturity.
Can I implement compensating controls instead of specific Essential Eight requirements?
- Yes. However, system owners will need to demonstrate that their compensating controls provide an equivalent level of protection to the specific Essential Eight requirements they are compensating for. This will assist in ensuring that an equivalent level of overall protection against a specified level of adversary targeting and tradecraft can be achieved and maintained.
- In cases where compensating controls are implemented, a mitigation strategy will be considered to have been fully implemented when all requirements that form that mitigation strategy have been assessed as either implemented or implemented using suitable compensating controls. However, if compensating controls are assessed as not suitable, the mitigation strategy will be assessed as either the next lowest maturity level it qualifies for or Maturity Level Zero.
- Note, system owners that seek to use risk acceptance without compensating controls, or risk transference (e.g. by sourcing cyber insurance), as justification for not implementing an entire mitigation strategy, such as application control or multi-factor authentication, will be considered to have not protected themselves against a specific class of cyber threat and will subsequently be assessed as Maturity Level Zero for both that mitigation strategy and their overall Essential Eight implementation.
More resources to help apply the Essential Eight and mature your cybersecurity measures
Through this process, organisations can identify gaps in their security measures and create strategies for mitigating potential risks. The assessment includes multiple steps that involve gathering information from stakeholders, analysing data, and making action plans based on identified vulnerabilities.
Tools and techniques used during the Essential Eight assessment vary depending on the scope of the evaluation and the level of detail desired. Standard tools include vulnerability scanners, penetration testing, risk assessments, and threat modelling. These tools provide valuable insight into how well existing security controls mitigate against threats, both internal and external.
Additionally, they can help organisations prioritise which areas require further focus or attention when developing mitigation strategies.
Conducting the Assessment
It’s vital to obtain comprehensive documentation of every assessment stage, as this will serve as evidence that all necessary steps were taken to investigate any potential vulnerabilities. The assessor should gather data on system architecture, environment, application stack components, user access privileges, processes, policies, and procedures.
All collected information should then be evaluated against industry best practices and government regulations to identify areas where further action may be required.
This process requires a thorough understanding of security frameworks and expertise in recognising common weaknesses or misconfigurations which could lead to a breach of an organisation’s networked systems.
Analysis of Results
The analysis of the results reveals an overall picture of the organisation’s Essential Eight implementation. It provides insights into areas where improvement is needed and highlights strengths that should be maintained and built upon.
The findings indicate whether additional resources are required to implement a successful security strategy, enabling robust protection for critical information assets. Furthermore, it allows stakeholders and decision-makers to identify potential risks and assess their impact on business operations.
Ultimately, this assessment process is valuable in helping organisations meet their cybersecurity objectives and remain secure against cyber threats.
Upon concluding assessment activities, assessors will need to determine whether mitigation strategies were implemented effectively or not. This determination requires a combination of judgement and consideration of the following factors:
- adoption of a risk-based approach to the implementation of mitigation strategies
- ability to test the mitigation strategies across an accurate representative sample of workstations (including laptops), servers and network devices
- level of assurance gained from assessment activities and any evidence provided (noting the quality of evidence)
- any exceptions, including associated compensating controls, and whether they have been accepted by an appropriate authority as part of a formal exception process.
Organisations can better secure their ICT systems through the Essential Eight framework, providing greater protection from malicious actors and potential data breaches. As such, organisations must incorporate the Essential Eight into their overall security strategy to ensure maximum safety and reliability. Reach out to a local and reliable MSP like KMTech to protect your company and team’s data.
Benefits of Essential Eight Compliance
The primary benefit of this compliance process is that it provides organisations with better visibility into their current security state and offers actionable steps to establish more robust protective measures.
Additionally, organisations may find cost savings from having fewer breaches or incidents due to improved processes. Many organisations, such as government departments and major banks, have already seen success by implementing the guidelines set out in the Essential Eight Compliance Framework.
As more businesses become aware of these benefits and begin following the protocols outlined in this framework, they will likely experience similar successes.