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The Power of the Essential 8: How to Safeguard Your Organisation from Cyber Threats  

08/09/2023by admin0Read: 7 minutes

The Essential 8 cybersecurity framework, developed by the Australian Signals Directorate, is an all-encompassing approach that targets critical components and principles to effectively guard against cyber threats. By adhering to this framework, entities can significantly enhance their cyber resilience, and safeguard their systems with confidence.

Essential 8 

The Essential 8 framework is designed to equip businesses and individuals with the necessary tools and strategies to mitigate risks and sustain the security of their digital infrastructure.

It consists of eight essential mitigation strategies that can significantly reduce the risk of cyberattacks.

Australian organisations implementing the Essential 8 framework reap many benefits, including a robust defence against the various cyber threats affecting businesses.

Cybersecurity and Essential 8 Strategy

In today’s digital age, cybersecurity is of paramount importance. Cyberattacks have become increasingly common, and organisations need to take proactive measures to protect their assets and information. This is where the Power of Essential 8 comes into play. By implementing a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, organisations can safeguard their network infrastructure, protect sensitive data, and mitigate potential threats.

Maturity Level One

This maturity level is concerned with hostile actors that are satisfied to merely use commodity tradecraft that is freely available to acquire access to and control of a system.

These file formats may not be supported by the application control solution chosen.

Application control is rendered useless if any of the executables execute within the user profile directory or the operating system’s temporary directories.

Maturity Level Two

This maturity level focuses on malevolent actors with a slight improvement in capabilities, putting more time and effort into a target and their tools. They utilise tradecraft to avoid detection and circumvent safeguards, such as phishing and technological and social engineering tactics. Malicious actors are discriminating in their targeting while being frugal with their time, money, and effort. They may compromise user accounts, exploit privileges, steal or destroy data, or render data inaccessible via denial-of-service attacks.

Maturity Level Two assessments should focus on the difference between Maturity Level One and Maturity Level Two.

Maturity Level Three

Malicious actors at this maturity level are more adaptable and less reliant on publicly available technologies. They make use of flaws in their target’s cyber security posture, such as outdated operating systems or insufficient logging and monitoring, to gain access and avoid discovery. To increase their chances of success, they employ exploits and tradecrafts. Malicious actors focus on particular targets and can use policy and technological controls, such as social engineering or stealing authentication token values, to achieve their goals. They may get privileged credentials, shift to different networks, and disguise their traces once they have a foothold.

Understanding Network Security in the Context of Essential 8

The Essential 8 Strategy emphasizes network security as a key component to prevent unauthorised access, data breaches, and other cyber threats. Australian organisations can implement robust security measures and best practices, such as monitoring network traffic, enforcing strict passwords, updating devices and software regularly, and using robust encryption algorithms for wireless networks.

Data Protection Strategies to Safeguard Information Assets

Essential 8 emphasises data protection for organisations. It involves data classification, encryption, and backup and recovery measures. Data classification prioritizes security measures, while encryption ensures data safety. Regular backup minimizes downtime and protects against data loss.

Vulnerability Management to Identify and Address Security Weaknesses

The Essential 8 strategy relies on vulnerability management to discover and repair security flaws to avoid breaches and attacks. Regular vulnerability scans and patch management aid in the detection of weaknesses, while prompt remediation decreases cybercriminal risk and the opportunity for attackers.

Incident Response Procedures for Effective Cyber Threat Mitigation

Developing incident response procedures is crucial for implementing Essential 8 strategies. A detailed response plan orchestrates a coordinated response to cyber threats, enabling quick detection, containment, and risk mitigation. Strong monitoring systems and sophisticated threat information enhance detection.

Importance of Encryption for Securing Sensitive Information

Encryption is crucial for organisations to protect sensitive information from unauthorized access. It involves robust encryption techniques and proper key management. Encrypting data at rest prevents unauthorised access while encrypting data in transit ensures data safety during network transportation.

Risk Management and its Significance in the Power of Essential 8 

Risk management is essential in the Essential 8 framework for protecting critical assets and infrastructure from cyber threats. It involves recognising, analysing, and managing potential threats to an organisation’s operations and security.

A thorough risk assessment is crucial for identifying potential dangers and prioritising efforts.

Risk mitigation strategies, like security rules, modern technology, and strong incident response capabilities, are implemented to reduce the frequency and impact of security events.

Continuous risk monitoring and management are necessary to respond to emerging threats and maintain the effectiveness of security measures.

Assessment Process for Essential Eight

The Essential Eight Maturity Model has four levels, including one for non-met requirements. Assessors use core ideas alongside their expertise. Non-Microsoft Windows systems may need different ASD guidelines. Compensatory controls should match Essential Eight protection for overall security.

Evidence Quality

Assessors should obtain and examine trustworthy information to support their judgements about the efficacy of controls while performing an assessment. In general, the quality of evidence used to establish the efficiency of controls will vary depending on the technique chosen. As a result, while performing an assessment, assessors should strive to obtain and use the best quality evidence wherever possible.

This guidance identifies four evidence quality levels: Excellent, Good, Fair and Poor Evidence.

Stages of Essential Eight Assessments 

The Essential Eight assessments are divided into four steps, each with a defined action and concern: organising and planning, establishing scope and approach, reviewing controls for mitigation techniques, and developing a security assessment report.

Stage 1 Assessment Planning

The assessor should do assessment planning activities prior to beginning an assessment. These include system categorisation and evaluation scope, access to low and high-privileged user accounts, devices, documents, staff, and facilities. Both parties will have access to any relevant earlier security assessment reports.

Stage 2: Determination of Assessment Scope and Approach

Assessors should discuss the intended maturity level with the system owner, considering the Essential Eight implementation. Request an estimated % split of workstation and server operating systems. Qualitative testing entails document reviews and people interviews. quantitative testing entails system configuration reviews, scripts, and tools.

Stage 3: Assessment of Controls 

The assessment guideline for maturity levels is cumulative. It is consistent with how assessments should be done in relation to desired maturity levels.

Stage 4: Developing Security Assessment Report

Assessors should follow the Essential Eight Assessment Report Template while creating the security assessment report. Assessors can, however, use their own report templates for branding purposes as long as all elements of the template are present.

The Eight Pillars of Essential 8

The Essential Eight, commonly known as the “Strategies to Mitigate Cyber Security Incidents,” is a comprehensive cybersecurity framework comprised of eight core strategies established by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) to improve organisations’ security posture.

Application whitelisting, patching applications, changing Microsoft Office macro settings, user application hardening, limiting administrator rights, patching operating systems, multi-factor authentication, and daily backups are among the eight pillars.

These strategies are intended to mitigate a wide range of cyber threats, including malware, ransomware, and unauthorised access, by focusing on important security measures and best practices to secure vital systems and data. Organisations that properly apply the Essential Eight can dramatically lower their cybersecurity risks and increase their resistance to intrusions.

1) User Application Control

Businesses should implement application control to prevent the execution of malicious or unapproved applications. This includes configuring your systems to only allow approved applications to run.

2) Patch Applications:

Organisations should establish a robust patch management process to keep software up to date. They should regularly apply security patches and updates to eliminate known vulnerabilities in applications.

3) Configure Microsoft Office Macro Settings:

I.T. teams should configure Microsoft Office applications to block macros from the internet and only allow vetted macros to run. This helps prevent malware execution via malicious macros.

4) User Application Hardening

Organisations should implement application control to prevent harmful or unauthorised programs from being executed. This involves setting your systems so that only authorised programs may operate.

5) Restrict Administrative Privileges:

Businesses should limit the number of users with administrative privileges. Access should be granted to only those who require it for their job roles. Implement the principle of least privilege.

6) Patch Operating Systems:

Businesses should establish a process to patch operating systems with security updates promptly. This includes servers, workstations, and other devices.

7) Use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA):

Implement MFA for accessing sensitive systems and accounts. MFA adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide multiple forms of authentication.

8) Backup Data:

Regularly backing up important data can prevent any unforeseen loss. Businesses should ensure backups are secure and isolated from the network. Additionally, it is advised to test backups to ensure data can be restored in case of a cyber incident.

Steps to Implement Essential Eight Strategy

We have encapsulated the important steps to assist businesses in implementing the Essential Eight strategy to safeguard organisation from cyber threats:

1) Management Support:

For efficient implementation of the Essential Eight Strategy, management support is crucial and the I.T. (information security) team and the cyber security experts should work closely with them.

The senior management should be committed to implementing and maintaining cybersecurity measures and their timely support can accelerate the process of cyber security. They should allocate the necessary resources, and budget, and collaborate with cyber security consultants to support these efforts.

2) Implement Security Training and Awareness:

Conduct regular cybersecurity awareness training for all employees. Educate them about common cyber threats, social engineering attacks, and safe online practices.

3) Use Application Whitelisting:

Organisations should implement application whitelisting to allow only approved applications to run on systems. This helps prevent the execution of malicious or unauthorised software.

4)  Disable Unnecessary Services:

Review and disable unnecessary services and features on your systems. This will reduce the attack surface and enhance security.

5)  Implement DNS Filtering:

Use DNS filtering solutions to block access to known malicious domains and websites. This can help prevent users from inadvertently accessing malicious content.

6)  Implement Penetration Testing and Incident Response:

Regularly perform penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities in systems to tackle them at the right time and prevent further damage. Develop and maintain an incident response plan to address and recover from security incidents.

7)  Monitor and Analyse Network Traffic:

Implement network traffic monitoring and analysis tools to detect and respond to suspicious or anomalous network activities.

8) Engage with a Managed Security Service Provider (MSSP):

Consider collaborating with an MSSP to improve your company’s cybersecurity skills. MSSPs provide threat detection, incident response, and continuous security monitoring knowledge and resources.

9)  Stay Informed and Adapt to New Technologies:

Constantly scan the cybersecurity landscape for new threats and vulnerabilities. To remain ahead of emerging cyber threats, adjust your security measures and strategy as needed.

Thus, by following these steps and implementing the Essential Eight strategies, your organization can significantly improve its cybersecurity posture and reduce the risk of falling victim to cyber threats in Australia or any other region.

Anitech’s experienced information security consultants can help organisations efficiently implement the Essential 8 strategy to protect systems and data from cyber theft and data breaches.

Call us today for assistance at 1300 802 163 or e-mail – sales@anitechgroup.com

One can also perform Essential 8 Self-Assessment on our website

For expert guidance on ISO 27001 compliance and certification, contact our ISO 27001 consultants. Ensure the security and integrity of your information systems with our specialized consultancy services

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