ACSC Essential 8: Explained ACSC Essential 8: Explained

Last Updated on April 4, 2024 by Arnav Sharma

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has released its Essential Eight, a list of eight security strategies that organizations can use to protect themselves from cyber-attacks. The Essential Eight are designed to be implemented in a layered approach, with each layer providing additional protection.

Implementing all eight strategies will provide a high level of protection against cyber threats, however, organizations should prioritize based on their specific needs and risk profile. The ACSC recommends that organizations review their current security posture and identify which of the Essential Eight they are not already implementing. Organizations should seek advice from reputable security specialists to help with their implementation of Essential Eight.

The Essential Eight are a set of security controls that, if implemented, can protect an organization from the vast majority of cyber-attacks. The controls are:

  • Application Control 

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has released new guidance on application control. This follows a recent increase in attacks targeting unsecured applications.

Organisations should take steps to secure their applications and prevent unauthorised access. The ACSC recommends implementing application whitelisting as a key security measure.

Application whitelisting can help organisations to block unapproved applications from running on their systems. This can reduce the risk of malware infection and help to keep critical data safe.

  • Application Patching

The process of application patching is a necessary part of maintaining the security of software systems. By regularly applying patches, security vulnerabilities can be fixed and system reliability can be maintained.

However, patching can also introduce new security risks. In particular, when patches are not applied correctly, systems can become vulnerable to attack. Therefore, it is important to understand the risks associated with patching before implementing any changes.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) provides guidance on application patching. This includes advice on how to plan and implement patches, as well as how to mitigate the risks associated with patching.

  • Restrict Administrative Privileges

The administrative privileges on many systems are much too broad, granting users access to sensitive information and system configuration options. The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) recommends that organisations restrict administrative privileges to only those who absolutely require it.

Broad administrative privileges can allow malicious actors to easily gain control of a system and access sensitive data. By restricting these privileges, organisations can make it more difficult for attackers to gain a foothold on their systems.

The ACSC recommends that organisations review their current administrative privileges and identify any unnecessary ones. They should then create a policy that outlines who needs these privileges and what they can be used for. This will help to ensure that only those who need access to sensitive information and options have it.

  • Patch Operating Systems

A Patch Operating System is a type of computer software that is designed to provide security updates and bug fixes for a particular computer or software program.Patch Operating Systems are typically released on a regular basis by the software vendor in order to keep the software up-to-date and secure.

ACSC (Australian Cyber Security Centre) recommends that organisations patch their systems as soon as possible after security updates are released. This helps to ensure that systems are protected from known vulnerabilities.

Patching can be a complex process, particularly for large organisations with many different types of systems and applications. However, it is important to patch systems in order to reduce the risk of cyber attacks.

  • Configure Microsoft Office Macro Settings

Macros in Microsoft Office can be a useful tool to automate repetitive tasks. However, they can also pose a security risk if they are not properly configured.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) recommends that users disable macros in Microsoft Office unless they trust the source of the document. If macros must be used, the ACSC advises that users enable macro signing to verify that the code has not been tampered with.

Macro signing uses digital signatures to ensure that the code has not been modified since it was signed. This can help to prevent malicious macros from running on your system. To enable macro signing, open the Trust Center settings in Microsoft Office and select “Enable all trusted controllers.

  • Application Hardening

Application hardening is the process of making a software application more resistant to attack. The term is often used in the context of cybersecurity, where it refers to measures taken to make an app less vulnerable to exploitation by hackers. 

There are a number of techniques that can be used to harden an application, including code signing, code obfuscation, and tamper detection/prevention. Hardening an app can make it more resistant to reverse engineering and tampering, and can help to protect against a range of security threats including malware, viruses, and denial-of-service attacks.

Application hardening is an important part of securing software applications, but it is not a silver bullet. It is important to remember that no app is completely secure and that hardening measures should be just one part of a broader security strategy.

  • Multi-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication is a security measure that requires more than one method of verification from independent sources to gain access.

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) recommends using multi-factor authentication to protect online accounts. ACSC provides guidance on how organizations can implement strong authentication, including two-factor authentication and risk-based authentication.

Multi-factor authentication can be used to supplement or replace traditional username and password systems. It adds an extra layer of security by requiring users to provide additional information, such as a PIN or biometric data, before being granted access.

Organizations should consider implementing multi-factor authentication for high-value assets and services, such as email accounts and financial systems. ACSC also recommends using multi-factor authentication for any user who has elevated privileges, such as administrators.

  • Regular Backups

Regular backups are essential for the security of your data. Here’s what you need to know to make sure your backups are effective. Backing up your data is vital to keeping it safe from loss or damage. There are many different ways to back up your data, and it’s important to choose a method that suits your needs.

There are two main types of backup: full and incremental. Full backups create a copy of all the data on your system, while incremental backups only copy new or changed files. Which type of backup you use will depend on how often you need to access your backup files and how much storage space you have available.

What is the ACSC maturity model?

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has released a new maturity model to help organisations understand their current level of cyber security maturity and identify areas for improvement.

The ACSC maturity model consists of five levels, from Level 1 (Consequence-Driven) to Level 5 (Proactive), with each level representing an organisation’s increasing ability to manage cyber security risks.

  • Level 1 organisations are driven by the consequences of a breach, such as financial losses or reputational damage. They typically have ad-hoc security processes and lack formalised governance arrangements
  • Level 2 organisations are starting to formalise their approach to security, with more defined processes and procedures. However, they are still largely reactive in their approach and do not proactively manage cyber risks.

FAQ:

Q: What is the Essential Eight and why is it important for Australian cyber security?

The Essential Eight is a set of cyber security mitigation strategies recommended by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) to organizations for enhancing their cyber security posture. These strategies are designed to protect Australian entities against a wide range of cyber threats. The Essential Eight includes application whitelisting, application hardening, configuring Microsoft Office macro settings to block macros from the internet, user application hardening, restricting administrative privileges, patching operating systems, multi-factor authentication, and daily backup of important data. The importance of implementing the Essential Eight lies in its effectiveness in mitigating cyber security incidents, making it much harder for adversaries to compromise systems.

Q: How does the Essential Eight Maturity Model assess an organization’s cyber security?

The Essential Eight Maturity Model is a framework developed by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to assess an organization’s implementation of the Essential Eight mitigation strategies. The model defines four maturity levels (zero to three), with each level indicating the degree to which the Essential Eight have been implemented. Maturity Level Zero indicates that an organization has not effectively implemented any of the Essential Eight strategies. Progressing through the levels, each higher maturity level signifies a more comprehensive and effective implementation, with Maturity Level Three indicating that the organization has fully implemented all the strategies. This model helps organizations to assess their current cyber security maturity and plan for a target maturity level suitable to their risk environment, progressively implementing each maturity level until that target is achieved.

Q: What are the key strategies included in the Essential Eight?

The Essential Eight comprises eight key cyber risk mitigation strategies: application whitelisting, to only allow approved applications to run; application hardening, to protect applications from various vulnerabilities; Microsoft Office macro settings configuration, to prevent macros from internet-sourced documents from running; user application hardening, to protect commonly used applications; restriction of administrative privileges, to limit powerful access to systems; operating system patching, to fix known vulnerabilities; multi-factor authentication, to add an additional layer of security for accessing systems; and daily backups of important data, to ensure recovery in the event of a cyber incident. These strategies are collectively designed to provide a robust security framework that significantly enhances an organization’s cyber resilience.

Q: How does the Australian Cyber Security Centre recommend organizations implement the Essential Eight?

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) recommends that organizations implement the Essential Eight by progressively adopting each of the eight mitigation strategies to mature their cyber security. The implementation process is guided by the Essential Eight Maturity Model, which suggests assessing the organization’s current maturity level across the strategies and then planning to achieve a target maturity level that aligns with the organization’s cyber risk environment. Organizations are advised to start by aiming to reach at least Maturity Level One for each of the strategies before progressing to higher levels. This structured approach ensures that organizations systematically strengthen their cyber security posture against a wide range of cyber threats.

Q: What is the Essential Eight and why is it crucial in mitigating cyber threats?

The Essential Eight is a framework recommended by the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) to mitigate cyber threats effectively. It is a set of eight strategic mitigation strategies designed to protect organizations from various cyber risks. The Essential Eight encompasses application whitening, macro configuration in Microsoft Office to block internet macros, application hardening, restricting administrative privileges, patching operating systems, multi-factor authentication, daily backups, and user application hardening. This framework is essential because it offers a comprehensive approach to safeguarding against cyber threats, emphasizing the importance of a multi-layered security strategy to protect information security within an organization.

Q: How is the maturity level within the Essential Eight framework assessed?

The Essential Eight Maturity Model allows organizations to assess their implementation of the eight mitigation strategies. It consists of various maturity levels, with higher levels indicating a more robust cybersecurity posture. The model starts from Maturity Level Zero, indicating minimal or no implementation, to Maturity Level Three, which signifies an advanced state of implementation. Maturity Level Two is particularly significant as it represents an intermediate stage where organizations have taken considerable steps towards improving their cybersecurity but may still have areas to develop further. Assessing an organization’s maturity level helps in identifying gaps in their cyber defense and provides a roadmap for enhancing their security measures.

Q: What steps should organizations take to implement the Essential Eight effectively?

To implement the Essential Eight effectively, organizations should start by conducting an Essential Eight assessment to understand their current security posture and identify areas for improvement. This involves evaluating their existing cybersecurity solutions and practices against the Essential Eight framework to determine their maturity level. Based on this assessment, organizations are recommended to adopt a strategic approach to mature their cybersecurity, progressively implementing each of the eight strategies. It’s essential for organizations to not only comply with the Essential Eight requirements but also consider additional mitigation strategies and security controls to address specific vulnerabilities and threats. Regularly reviewing and updating their implementation plans is crucial to adapt to the evolving cyber threat landscape and maintain effective cyber security solutions.

Q: How does the Essential Eight contribute to an organization’s overall cyber security maturity?

The Essential Eight plays a critical role in enhancing an organization’s overall cyber security maturity. By implementing these eight foundational strategies, organizations can significantly reduce their vulnerability to cyber attacks and improve their resilience against threats. The framework not only focuses on mitigating immediate risks but also encourages organizations to develop a more sophisticated and layered approach to cyber security. Following the Essential Eight framework helps organizations establish a strong foundation of security best practices, compliance, and security solutions that contribute to a mature and effective cyber defense strategy. Achieving higher levels of maturity within the Essential Eight framework signifies an organization’s commitment to maintaining a strong security posture and its capability to protect against all cyber threats.

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