ACSC Essential Eight: A Detailed Guide 

ACSC Essential Eight

Table of Contents

In today’s age, it is more than essential to be well aware and stay prepared for cyber threats and crimes. Understanding your business’s security posture and checking on technical controls is the foremost focus. The Australian government is concerned with overall information security in the country and hence had, has and will always work for a strong security policy in the country.  

The Australian government’s effort and collaboration between government agencies brought ACSC operations into action in 2014. Since then, ACSC has been providing enhanced cyber security capabilities and a single point of advice and support on cyber security. Later on, 1 July 2018, the ACSC expanded and formally became part of ASD (Australian Signals Directorate).  

Overall, ACSC is devoted to bringing cybersecurity reports and addressing them right on time to avoid any cybersecurity-related mishaps, as well as see what the challenges in cybersecurity are and how to tackle them. 

As per ACSC (Australian Cyber Security Centre), Cybercrime is an offence committed through or against information and communications technology (ICT). Cybercrimes can either be cyber-enabled or cyber-dependent. In 2021–2022, over 76,000 reports of cybercrime or one report every seven minutes, were received by the ACSC. With the increase in cybersecurity issues, ACSC introduced a number of new programs to increase Australia’s cyber resilience. Further, it is advised that organisations follow the eight key mitigation techniques listed in the ACSC’s Strategies to Mitigate Cyber Security Incidents. 

 

What are the Eight Essentials?

ACSC recommends Essential Eight, which is the strategy for advanced and sound security and operational procedures in the online platform. It was first used within Australian government agencies, their departments, local councils, and other public sector businesses.  

However, because the Essential Eight is a good starting point for evaluating security controls and laying the groundwork for cyber security, many private businesses are now also taking a close look at them. To safeguard Microsoft Windows-based internet-connected networks, the Essential Eight has become popular.  

Essential Eight’s guiding principles can be used with any operating system, including cloud services and enterprise mobility. These Essential Eight are included in 3 categories. 

 

Prevents attacks

  1. Application Whitelisting
  2. Patch Applications 
  3. Configure Microsoft Office Macros 
  4. User Application Hardening

Limit Extents of Attacks

  1. Restrict Admin Privileges
  2. Patch Operating System 

Recovers data 6 system availability

  1. Multi-factor Authentification
  2. Daily Backups 

 

Essential 8 maturity models

Before getting details in the Essential Eight Mitigation strategies, you must know your Maturity Model. In fact, ACSC recommends knowing your current maturity level first, what cybersecurity practices you have been doing, etc. There are three maturity models/levels. Let’s look in detail. 

 

Maturity level zero

It denotes that your organisation’s cyber security framework has flaws. Your degree of cyber security maturity will be called zero whether you have implemented none of the techniques or have done so with some success. Talking about the one who has done successful cyber security, they too are considered with level zero maturity as those companies will stay less active and will employ fewer control mechanisms, which will expose them to attack. 

 

Maturity level one

The risks of a cyber attack from an opportunistic enemy are minimised. As a result, they are searching for any victim rather than a particular one. To find common exploits or vulnerabilities in operating systems or software that may be unpatched, they use standard tools and popular tools that are readily available online. 

 

Maturity level two

Here, the emphasis is on combating adversaries who are more well-equipped and use more sophisticated methods. In order to obtain access to your data and gain rights, they may be explicitly targeting your organisation rather than just spamming you with phishing emails. They may even try to mimic users or accounts within your organisation. 

 

Maturity level three

It is the highest level and focuses on preventing attackers from taking advantage of any gaps in your security measures, such as outdated software or insufficient monitoring, from penetrating your target’s cyber defences. 

Any government department, agency, or local council must mandatorily adopt the necessary eight and have a maturity level rating. A third party or your MSP can conduct the essential eight assessments. However, a small to medium-sized company or even a larger organisation that hasn’t taken a strong step in cyber security should apply the methods and have their maturity level determined. 

 

Essential Eight Security Strategies in Detail

Let’s dive into the detail of the essential eight security strategies. 

 

  • Application Whitelisting

Application whitelisting or application control is a security control method designed to protect against malicious code by ensuring applications are on the allowlist while blocking the blacklisted apps(apps that can be threatening). After restricting administrative privileges, you can dive into application control. Unknowingly downloading applications or wolf phishing scams, malware or ransomware can be lethal. 

 To construct an allowlist, there are two best practices. The first technique involves asking an allowlist vendor for a standard list, and the second involves utilising a system or device that you are confident is malware-free. Additionally, you should spend some time auditing the programs your users currently have installed on their computers and devices and removing any that are unneeded or dubious. 

At more advanced degrees of maturity, the “recommended block rules” and “recommended driver block rules” from Microsoft are implemented. Additionally, annual or more regular validations of application control rulesets are performed. Controlling the execution of apps and who has access to them is the essence of application control. Therefore, it is advised that firms assess the systems in place for people, processes, surroundings, and technology. 

 

  • Patch Applications

Patches are called the fixes in software code which address security gaps, repair broken functionalities, add new functionalities, and repair bugs or errors. Most of the time, patches come in the form of updates. Technically, patching programs (like Microsoft Office) can also contribute to application security.

Thus, you must use the most recent version of the app on systems with extreme-risk security vulnerabilities to patch and mitigate them within 48 hours. Additionally, a vulnerability scanner is utilised at least once a day to find any security flaws in internet-facing services that need patches or updates. 

 

  • Configure Microsoft Office Macros

Configuring Microsoft Office is another part of the essential eight frameworks. Macros are micro programs designed to make repeated activities in programs easier. Instead of repeatedly writing the same list of instructions, users can execute the macro instead.  

However, malicious macros can easily run in the same way. Office macro settings must be set up by businesses using macros, and only authorised users should be able to execute macros. User access to only reliable macros must be controlled. 

 

  • User Application Hardening

Many apps enable features that users don’t need by default and allow lowered security level settings. We might be giving hackers access to our systems by simply allowing the application to follow the default installation instructions.  

Thus, a clean-up is necessary, and that clean-up can be summed up as user applications hardening. You can get a list of the applications that are installed on your network/devices to reduce clutter and uninstall those ineffective or useless and unnecessary features from the apps. 

 

  • Restrict Administrative Privileges

One of the best mitigation strategies for maintaining system security is restricting administrative privileges. You must limit administrative privileges to operating systems and applications based on user duties. Users who have administrative access to operating systems and applications can significantly alter their configuration and operation and gain access to confidential data. 

 However, people with access to privileged accounts must avoid using their email and web browsing for insecure websites or actions. Moreover, you must frequently reevaluate the need for privileges.  

It may sound promising to simply reduce the total number of privileged accounts or to implement shared non-attributable privileged accounts, but these actions fall short of the mitigation strategy’s goals. For this, privileged access to systems and applications is validated, privileged accounts are prevented from accessing the internet, email and web services, and making unprivileged accounts unable to log on to privileged operating environments can be done. 

 

  • Patch Operating System

Operating systems that are not patched are the most popular external attack strategy and are frequently utilised to compromise your environment. The patching process could be delayed by a lack of resources, software compatibility issues, or infrastructural complexity.  

Additionally, patching operating systems is one of the simpler but most difficult tasks to complete, with time constraints that would test even the greatest IT teams. You should get your operating system patches within two weeks or two days if a vulnerability is patched. Operating systems that are no longer supported by their manufacturers might be discarded. 

 

  • Multi-factor Authentification

Multi-factor authentication(MFA) is an essential part of essential 8 strategies. Banks and online software prioritise enabling multi-factor security from varying your log into your bank transactions. MFA is an authentication procedure that makes use of two or more authentication factors to ensure that each action or claim is performed by a single authorised and authenticated verifier.

In a nutshell, MFA is the practice of using multiple verification techniques to validate a user’s credentials. MFA offers an additional degree of security! You can choose cloud services (such as Office, SharePoint, Google Cloud, Azure, and AWS) and enable MFA in your admin panel for users within your organisation to ensure MFA. Further, one must be using quality Android devices in order to prevent malware.  

 

  • Daily Backups

Data loss can occur as a result of ransomware, human mistakes, natural calamities, or defective technology. A well-designed backup system is the wisest course of action, given that insurers are currently refusing to pay ransoms, which is another sad development. Therefore, you should always have resilient backups of your critical data, software, and configuration settings that also comply with business continuity standards. In the cyber threat landscape, data breaches or loss of notifiable data has become a burning issue, but thanks to alert security teams of companies who always make sure to make use of the best cloud-based daily backups. 

[For details on three maturity levels for a company’s essential eight journey or a comparison of maturity levels for all the cybersecurity challenges and aspects, you can check out the Comparison of maturity levels at ACSC.] 

 

Things to consider when looking to implement these Eight strategies of cybersecurity

  •  Essential Eight describes a minimal set of preventative measures; organisations must take further steps beyond those suggested by this maturity model when their situation calls for it. Additionally, while Essential Eight can assist in reducing the bulk of cyber risks, it cannot eliminate them entirely. 
  • Organisations must decide on and prepare for a target level of maturity that is appropriate for their environment. 
  • Organisations are to gradually implement each maturity level until their goal is reached. 
  •  Essential Eight’s eight mitigation techniques should be chosen together because they work best together. 
  • Organisations should use a risk-based strategy when implementing Essential Eight. 

 

How does NSW IT Support employ the ACSC Essential Eight in its cybersecurity service?

Well, as a complete IT Support company in Australia, NSW IT Support ensure to offer your best IT service followed by support, maintenance, and security. We are well aware of the fact that companies are looking for the best online security solutions, from Microsoft security solutions to MFA. Thus, we have robust cybersecurity services that provide you with the best online security.  

Under our IT Consulting services, we ensure to include information about the essential eight controls as well as help companies in forming a profitable cybersecurity roadmap. Our cybersecurity services are also focused on educating people about what is happening in the cyber world, what you need to do for prevention, and many more. 

To get fully-fledged IT Support from us, you can certainly contact us. We will revert as soon as possible. 

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