What Is the ACSC Essential 8 Framework?

What Is the ACSC Essential 8 Framework?

Have you heard about the ACSC Essential Eight framework? The term sounds confusing and complicated, we know. It's somewhat simple, though. It refers to a framework the Australian government has developed with eight essential steps to help businesses like yours strengthen their cyber security defenses.

The goal is to make it harder for hackers to get in, limit the damage they can do if they do get in, and help you recover faster if they do. The government has made it mandatory for all non-corporate Commonwealth entities to comply with these guidelines.

As of June 2022, all these businesses must pass a comprehensive security audit every five years to ensure they're up to scratch. But don't worry if this all sounds confusing; we'll explain what this means for you as a business owner and how we can help you stay ahead.


Essential 8 Framework Explained

This framework was created by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) in 2017. It was an update to the original set of four security controls. It's the ultimate cheat sheet for keeping your business safe from cyberattacks.

So, what's the deal with the Essential 8? Well, it comprises eight strategies divided into three main objectives:

  1. The first objective is to prevent attacks from happening in the first place.
  2. The second objective is to limit the impact of an attack if one does happen.
  3. The third objective is to ensure your data is always available, no matter what.

The Essential 8 isn't just for big businesses or government agencies, though. Any entity that needs to comply with this cyber security framework will undergo a comprehensive audit every five years, starting in June 2022. That means everyone is accountable, from the smallest startup to the biggest corporation.

So, if you're looking to beef up your security measures and ensure you're not at risk for a cyberattack, the Essential 8 Framework is worth checking out. With the right strategy, you can keep your data safe and stay one step ahead of cybercrime in Australia.


Essential 8 Strategies

Protecting systems from cyber threats is crucial to the security and survival of Australian businesses. This is true whether your business is large or small.

There's a lot to know about this kind of cyber security framework. And we'll dive more into what all of this means below. But what's most important to know is that implementing these strategies reduces the risk of cyberattacks, mitigates the potential impact, and enables quicker recovery.

1. Application Control

Application control refers to controlling what applications can and can't run on your network. Limiting the number of applications reduces the opportunities for attackers to exploit vulnerabilities.

This strategy also ensures that any application installed is legitimate and authorized. The result is a reduced risk of malware and other malicious software.

2. Application Patching

This involves ensuring that all applications used within your organization are up-to-date. Applying patches promptly helps to eliminate security flaws and vulnerabilities. After all, attackers often exploit outdated software to gain access to your network.

3. Restrict Administrative Privileges

This strategy is about eliminating the number of people with high-level access to your network. Limiting administrative privileges reduces the risk of attackers accessing your most sensitive data. This strategy helps ensure the security of your entire organization by preventing unauthorized access to critical systems and devices.

4. Patch Operating Systems

Like the application patching strategy, patching your operating system helps secure your network. It does so by reducing its exposure to vulnerabilities. This is especially important given the constant release of updates to improve security.

5. Configure Microsoft Office Macro Settings

This involves disabling macros in Microsoft Office documents.

Don't get us wrong. The feature is beneficial for automating tasks. However, attackers can also use it to execute malicious code on your network.

By turning it off in Microsoft Office documents, you can reduce the risk of attackers leveraging this functionality to infiltrate your system.

6. Using Application Hardening

Application hardening sounds complex. However, it involves configuring applications to their most secure settings. This helps reduce the risk of attackers exploiting application vulnerabilities to gain access to your network.

What does this accomplish? It creates an additional layer of security. That extra layer makes it more challenging for attackers to compromise your systems.

7. Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication is essential for protecting your network. Passwords alone can be easily compromised. Multi-factor authentication takes your security to the next level.

You've likely seen this at play in real life, too. Facebook often asks for it, and so do other social media platforms. With multi-factor authentication, users must provide additional information to verify their identity, such as a fingerprint or one-time password.

8. Regular Backups

Finally, it's important to make regular backups of all your data. These backups allow you to recover from system failures and potential data loss. By backing up your data frequently and storing it off-site, you ensure the ability to recover quickly from any cyber attack.


Importance of Cyber Security Framework

In today's increasingly digital world, cyber security is essential for all businesses, big and small. And when protecting your company's data, the ACSC Essential 8 Framework is one of the best tools available.

It's mandatory now, sure, but it's also incredibly important. Why? Here are just a few of the many reasons.

1. Protect Your Data from Cyber Attacks

First and foremost, having a cyber security framework helps you protect your data from cyber attacks. Without proper security measures in place, your business could be vulnerable to an array of threats, including:

  • Malware
  • Phishing scams
  • Ransomware

These attacks can compromise sensitive data, steal important customer information, and even put your operations at a standstill. By implementing the ACSC Essential 8 Framework, you can greatly reduce the risk of these attacks and keep your business safe.

2. Comply with Regulations and Standards

Another reason why having a cyber security framework is so important is that it can help you comply with various regulations and standards. Depending on the nature of your business, you may be subject to certain legal requirements regarding information security.

The ACSC Essential 8 Framework is designed to help you meet these requirements and industry standards like ISO 27001 and NIST.

3. Protect Your Reputation and Customers

In addition to protecting your data and complying with regulations, a cyber security framework can also help you protect your reputation and customers. If your business experiences a cyber attack, it can damage your brand and customer trust.

By implementing the ACSC Essential 8 Framework and taking a proactive approach to cyber security, you can reassure your customers that their data is safe.

4. Reduce Costs and Downtime

Finally, having a cyber security framework can help you reduce costs and downtime. Cyber attacks can be incredibly expensive to repair, both in terms of lost productivity and actual costs associated with fixing the damage.

By implementing a framework like the ACSC Essential 8, you can greatly reduce the risk of a costly attack and minimize the downtime associated with recovery efforts.


Essential 8 Assessment Process

So, how do you know if your organization complies with these strategies? You can follow this quick assessment guide to gauge where you're currently and how to improve your network security.

Stage 1: Assessment Planning and Preparation

The first step in the assessment process is to plan and prepare. This involves:

Identifying the scope of the assessment (e.g., which systems, applications, and devices will be included)

  • Setting a timeline
  • Getting buy-in from stakeholders

It's also important to gather any necessary documentation, such as policies and procedures related to information security.

Stage 2: Determining Assessment Approach

Next, you'll need to determine your approach for the assessment. Will it be conducted by an internal team or an external auditor? Will it be a manual assessment or an automated one? These decisions will depend on factors such as your organization's budget, the available resources, and the level of detail and accuracy you require.

Stage 3: Controls Assessment

The controls assessment stage is where you'll test whether your organization uses the security controls outlined in the Essential 8 Framework. This will involve manual testing (e.g., reviewing policies and procedures) and automated testing (e.g., scanning systems for vulnerabilities).

The goal? To identify any gaps between your current security measures and what's recommended in the Essential 8 Framework.

Stage 4: Security Assessment Report

Finally, the assessment process culminates in creating a Security Assessment Report. This report will detail the results of the controls assessment, including any areas where you're not compliant with the Essential 8 Framework. It should also include recommendations for improving your organization's security posture, such as implementing new controls or changing processes.


Essential 8 Maturity Levels

Maturity levels are used to measure the alignment between the mitigation strategy objectives and the actual state of the organization's security posture. These levels aren't set in stone, though! Your business can customize the levels to reflect its unique risk profiles.

Let's dive into more detail about each maturity level.

1. Maturity Level One

This level indicates that your organization has a basic understanding of cybersecurity. You have implemented some of the recommended security controls, but it's insufficient to address all the risks.

Despite partial alignment with mitigation strategy objectives, organizations at this level are vulnerable to cyberattacks.

2. Maturity Level Two

At this level, organizations have a greater understanding of cybersecurity and have implemented more security controls. If you're at this level, you might have a proactive approach to security. Your team likely understands the importance of continuous monitoring for identifying potential vulnerabilities.

However, there are still areas that need improvement. Ultimately, the security posture isn't yet optimal.

3. Maturity Level Three

This is the optimal level of maturity recommended by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD). Organizations at this level have invested in cybersecurity, and it's become an integral part of their operations.

If your business is currently at this level, you've probably implemented all the recommended security controls, and your security posture is strong. You can access advanced monitoring tools and analytics for proactive threat hunting and remediation. Great job!


Final Thoughts

Organizations that invest in the Essential 8 Framework can track their compliance through the maturity scale and identify their current state of compliance. This enables them to understand the specific efforts required to progress through each level and strengthen their security posture.

The bottom line? Adopting more of these security controls can help protect your business from common threats such as malware and cyberattacks. With the framework already in place, it's (somewhat) simple to take actionable steps to mitigate cyber risks and secure your systems.


Essential 8 Implementation Tips

Whew. We've just thrown a lot at you. By now, you're almost a pro at understanding the ACSC Essential 8 Framework, and now you're ready to implement it.

Congratulations, you're one step closer to having a secure online presence! But where do you start? Right here, with these implementation tips for each of the eight essential strategies.


Tips for Application Control

As mentioned above, this first strategy ensures that your applications can only run approved executables. Protecting your system from unauthorized or malicious software is crucial, and application control is a fantastic way to do just that. 

Here are a few ways you can do that:

  1. Only allow whitelisted applications to run on your system.
  2. Consider using application control software such as AppLocker.
  3. Monitor the logs regularly to ensure that only trusted executables are being run.
  4. Ongoing risk assessments can also help you understand what applications your organization needs and which can potentially pose a risk to your network.


Tips for Application Patching

Patching is the process of updating software to fix bugs and security flaws. Updating your applications regularly is a key part of maintaining a secure system. Here's how you can implement it:

  1. Have a regular patching schedule in place.
  2. Ensure all software is updated to the latest version.
  3. Consider using a patch management tool to automate the process.

Our top tip here? Automate the process of updates. 


Tips for Restricting Administrative Privileges

This strategy is all about limiting access to system administration functions. Doing so can reduce the chance of unauthorized access or changes being made to your system. Some ways to achieve this include the following:

  1. Only give administrative access to trusted users who require it for their job.
  2. Create separate accounts specifically for administrative tasks.
  3. Implement two-factor authentication to log into administrator accounts.

To implement this strategy effectively, it's ultimately important to conduct an audit to determine the number of users with admin privileges. Consider providing administrator access to only a few trusted employees in your organization.


Tips for Patching Operating Systems

Like applications, operating systems need regular patching to fix bugs and security vulnerabilities. How can you do that?

  1. Have a regular patching schedule in place.
  2. Ensure all operating systems are updated to the latest version.
  3. Consider using a patch management tool to automate the process.

To effectively improve this area of your network security, consider adopting an automated patching system through tools like Microsoft's System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM). Tools like these can ensure all operating systems are regularly and automatically updated.


Tips for Configuring Microsoft Office Macro Settings

Microsoft Office macros allow automated execution of tasks. However, as mentioned, they can also be used for malicious purposes. So, you'll want to do the following:

  1. Disable macros in Microsoft Office by default.
  2. If you need to use macros, only enable them for trusted documents.
  3. Implement a policy for vetting macro-enabled documents before they are used.

The bottom line here is that it's much safer to have only a dedicated team of tech-savvy individuals be the only ones enabled to use macros.


Tips for Using Application Hardening

Application hardening can help to reduce the chance of an attacker finding and exploiting vulnerabilities. To "harden" your applications, do the following:

  1. Ensure that you're running the latest version of the application.
  2. Configure the application's security settings to be as secure as possible.
  3. Monitor the logs regularly to check for any potential attacks.

Furthermore, consider the impact on application testing when making these modifications.


Tips for Implementing Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication is a fantastic way to increase the security of your online accounts. However, it's not as simple as setting up 2FA on all devices. You'll want to follow these steps:

  1. Use two-factor authentication wherever possible.
  2. Regularly review the systems that require authentication to ensure they're still necessary.
  3. Consider using a password manager to ensure all passwords are strong and unique.

Additionally, you can consider adopting more advanced verification mechanisms such as biometric authentication.


Regular Backups

Lastly, regular backups help protect your data from potential loss, damage, or corruption. How can you ensure you're effectively backing up your data?

  1. Have a regular backup schedule in place.
  2. Ensure that all important documents and data are included in the backups.
  3. Test the backups regularly to ensure that they are working correctly.

That last tip is particularly important here. You can lose data by failing to back it up correctly, too. Always check your backups to ensure everything is running smoothly.


Consider Managed IT Security Services

So, what have we learned here? The Essential 8 Framework is a complex one. It requires much effort to follow and implement.

Small businesses, particularly, can find it challenging to keep up with these strategies. Fortunately, there's a solution that can help your business stay on top of everything: managed IT services.

Managed IT services are a type of IT service that provides:

  • Ongoing monitoring and management
  • Support for network security and other related systems

These services are provided by experienced professionals who use the latest tools and techniques to keep businesses safe from cyber threats.

So, what are the benefits of using managed IT security services? Here are a few.

1. Proactive Threat Detection and Response

Cyber threats can be unpredictable and can appear in many different forms. With managed IT services, a team of experts monitors your systems around the clock and can quickly respond to suspicious activity. This means you can identify and respond to threats before any damage is done.

2. Improved System Performance

Managed IT security services providers (like us) use cutting-edge tools and techniques to optimize networks and systems for maximum speed and efficiency. The result? Your business experiences improved performance and productivity.

3. Reduced Costs

Implementing the Essential 8 Framework can be expensive and time-consuming. With managed IT services, you can leverage economies of scale. Using a shared infrastructure and resources, you can access top-notch cybersecurity solutions without investing in expensive hardware or personnel.

4. Customized Policies & Procedures

Managed IT security services offer security policies and procedures tailored to your business's needs. These policies and procedures will align with your business operations to ensure maximum protection.

5. Peace of Mind

Perhaps the most significant benefit of using managed IT security services is the peace of mind that comes with knowing that experts are monitoring and securing your systems. This leaves you free to focus on your core operations and leave the security concerns to the experts. It's a win-win for everybody.


Why AffinityMSP?

We're here to help you implement these cyber security strategies! But why us? We're a team of expert consultants dedicated to helping Australian businesses succeed through high-performance technology.

We understand that every business is unique. It's why we take the time to get to know you personally. Doing so allows us to customize the solutions you need the most to enhance your productivity and security.

As a partner, we're fully invested in your success. We'll be there for you every step of the way, offering personalized support whenever needed.

With our certified technicians on board, we'll proactively resolve any IT problems. This leaves you free to focus on running your business. Forget about worrying about the technology behind it.

Ultimately, AffinityMSP gives you all the benefits of a full-time IT department without employing one. All you have to do is leave the IT hassle to us and focus on growing your business. Talk about simple.


Get Started

If you want to beef up your organization's cybersecurity, the ACSC Essential 8 Framework is an excellent place to start. It's a basic but essential checklist that can make all the difference in protecting your business against online threats.

If you're wondering how to implement this framework and how we can help, don't hesitate to contact us. We'd love to chat and help you take the first steps towards securing your business.

What are you waiting for? Let's get started!

Leave a comment!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *