The Essential 8: An easy-to-understand guide for businesses

With the increasing number of cyber security incidents targeting businesses and throwing them into the public eye, the importance of an effective risk mitigation strategy has never been more apparent. For Australian businesses, the government and the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) recommend the Essential 8.

The information covered in the Essential 8 maturity model – a document that can serve as a point of reference for companies – allows you to strengthen your organisation’s security posture and safeguard its sensitive data, protecting the wellbeing of you, your team, and customers.

The Essential Eight: what is it?

The Essential 8 is a series of eight strategies that aim to diminish the likelihood of cyber-attacks impacting oragnisations’ operating systems, specifically networks that are powered by Microsoft’s Windows solution. 

The guide recontextualises malicious threats as ‘adversaries’ with tools and strategies that grow in sophistication. It also serves as a checklist that businesses can use to determine their current security vulnerabilities/posture and improve them.

What is the Essential Eight maturity model?

The easiest way to think of the maturity model is by comparing it to a guidebook. The model introduces and explains the various maturity levels, effectively laying out instructions on how businesses can implement mitigation strategies in correlation with adversaries and their capabilities. It recommends that companies satisfy the desired maturity level on all eight of its strategies before moving up. 

In other words, if your business’s security solution matches the description of the maturity level that you are working to achieve, you will be in a more secure position than before.

The maturity levels include:

According to the model, an organisation’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks may be determined by how valuable it appears to malicious actors. It acknowledges that adversaries can enact varying types of cyber threats depending on the situation – adversaries will not necessarily conform to the model, so the strategies that the guide recommends need to be implemented based on the threats that exist and their intended target, not who is behind them.

What are the Essential Eight strategies?

It consists of several cyber security solutions that address multiple threats and help mitigate risks. They are as follows:

1. Application controls
Applications and programs ought to be screened according to a ‘safe’ list. Any programs that are not listed are automatically blocked, helping to avoid malware penetrating and infecting your system.
2. Patch applications

Requires businesses to repair compromised applications as soon as possible (within two days – 48 hours – for software that can be accessed through the internet). It also stresses avoiding using legacy programs that are not updated.

3. Configure MS (Microsoft Office) macro settings

Automation commands can only run within the business’s system if there is an approved, legitimate reason for doing so. Organisations must also keep an eye on these commands as they can be exploited to run threatening codes.

4. User application hardening

Change the security settings within certain applications to make it harder for intruders to execute malicious commands within the program. It is about taking advantage of the pre-existing cyber security features within your company’s tools and using them in accordance with the Essential 8.

5. Restrict administrative privileges
Identify user accounts that have admin privileges and restrict their capabilities and peoples’ access to them. In the chance that a malicious actor manages to reach the account, their actions will be limited.
6. Patch operating systems

This strategy follows the same specifications as ‘patch applications’ above, but it applies them to your organisation’s operating system.

7. Multi-factor authentication

Requires companies to use two or more types of identification to enable access to networks. This approach can help reduce the risk of unauthorised access to critical data by controlling who can see and interact with information.

8. Regular backups

Companies should regularly back up data and system settings, keeping backups for a minimum of three months and independent from the network. This strategy also calls disaster recovery plans into question, requiring businesses to test their backup strategies as soon as possible, consistently, and when systems are modified with new hardware and software.

For businesses, what benefits do the Essential Eight offer?

While not entirely foolproof, the strategies do provide your company with benefits that can upgrade your current defences. They are:

Secure your business with Essential 8 experts

Digital security threats are showing no signs of slowing down, and your business needs to protect itself to avoid the risk of being attacked. The Essential Eight maturity model and its strategies can help you to identify your security weaknesses and implement the essential solutions. But this can be a significant undertaking if you do not have the time to study the strategies and deploy them correctly.

The cyber security specialists at Muscatech are experts in a comprehensive range of cyber security solutions, including the Essential 8. Talk to the team today to enhance your business’s strategies to mitigate cyber security incidents with digital security professionals that can protect your data, systems, and reputation.

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