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As cyber threats continue to evolve, business leaders seeking long-term success must ensure that their business strategies incorporate a robust cyber security posture. However, many businesses that operate in digital environments may be unfamiliar with cyber security best practices, and it can be difficult to understand where to start when it comes to putting together a plan to protect your business, customers, and sensitive information.

That's where the Essential 8 security model comes in. The Essential 8 lays out four security maturity levels, ranging from Level 0 to Level 3, that build on one another as your organisation becomes increasingly cybersecurity aware in eight key areas. At the first level of maturity, the organisation is not aligned at all with basic expectations to help prevent attacks, limit the extent of those attacks, and recover data and system availability following attacks. At the highest level of maturity, on the other hand, the organisation is fully prepared for potential issues and ready to protect itself.

Unfortunately, in an era of constantly evolving cyber threats, simply meeting the bare minimum compliance requirements laid out by the Essential 8 maturity model will not be sufficient to keep your business truly secure or maintain overall resilience in the long term. That’s why the best approach for forward-thinking organisations is to adopt a risk-based approach to cyber security, as opposed to solely relying on becoming compliant.

In this blog, we will explore a risk-based approach to cyber security and explain why it’s so important for organisations to determine the risks they can accept, those that they can avoid, or mitigate, as well as those that they can share.

What is Essential 8?

Essential 8 is a cybersecurity framework developed by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to help organisations protect against cyber threats. It includes eight controls that make up a comprehensive cybersecurity plan.

1. Application whitelisting

Application whitelisting restricts the use of tools and applications within an organisational network to those already evaluated and approved by the system administrator. By specifically whitelisting applications, your company decreases the number of illicit applications and tools that employees have access to, which can help keep the organisation safer.

2. Patching applications

Applications regularly release updates that help provide a higher level of protection. When someone, either malicious or otherwise, identifies a threat or vulnerability within the application, the company will generally act to patch the hole. Your organisation needs a policy in place that ensures that application patching takes place regularly: ideally, as soon as possible.

3. Patching operating systems

Like applications, operating systems can have unexpected vulnerabilities. Ensuring that your operating systems are patched regularly helps keep your business safe.

4. Restricting administrative privileges

Every user does not need administrative privileges on your system. You may want to limit who can download new applications, who can access specific tools, or who can make changes to the system. By restricting administrative privileges, you prevent employees from accessing information or platforms they do not need and, in turn, keep your business safer. Keep in mind that your employees are the organisation's most vulnerable point when it comes to cybersecurity. By limiting administrative access, you cut off potential avenues of attack.

5. Using multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication requires users to use more than just a password to access vital systems and programs. By using multi-factor authentication, you create an additional layer of security between your business and a potential attack.

6. Backing up data

Data loss can pose a serious problem for your organisation. Lost data means lost man hours, decreased customer satisfaction, and a host of other problems. By backing up your data regularly, you ensure that you can access as much of it as possible if something does happen to vital data.

7. Enabling email filtering

Email filtering scans and classifies both inbound and outgoing emails for potential malicious content. It also scans for spam, adult content, or suspicious links. Filtering your organisation's emails helps prevent malicious content from making it to you.

8. Using daily log monitoring

Log monitoring helps keep your team aware of what takes place within its virtual environment. Daily log monitoring ensures that you can respond faster to any potential incident, including malicious traffic on your network. With log monitoring, you decrease the risk that malicious content will spread throughout your network.

What technologies are required for organisations implementing Essential 8 framework?

In order to implement the Essential 8 framework, your organisation must first have the right technology in place. Choosing the right platforms, programs, and apps can go a long way toward protecting the overall security of your organisation. Technologies and tools your organisation will need to help protect yourself may include:

  • Application control verification tools
  • Risk assessment tools
  • Multi-factor authentication
  • Antivirus software
  • End-to-end monitoring
  • Backup tools

An experienced cyber security expert will be able to provide you with a clear understanding of what the ACSC essential 8 looks like in practice and what tools you will need to meet your business's specific security requirements.

Essential 8 cheat sheet

The key benefits of a risk based approached approach to cyber security

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Essential 8 strategies and maturity model

There are several strategies your business can take in order to achieve Essential 8 compliance. Before you begin, assess your organisation's security posture to understand potential weak points that attackers may look to exploit.

The levels of maturity in Essential 8

The Essential 8 framework lays out what organisations need to accomplish in order to reach specific levels of maturity.

  • Level Zero: Weak overall security posture, which means that the business is highly vulnerable. Not only can you be infiltrated easily, you may face significant business risks in the event of a breach.
  • Level One: You have a weak overall security system that is vulnerable to threats, including threats that may be targeted toward general applications and platforms, rather than your organisation specifically.
  • Level Two: Your business is protected against many potential threats, including adversaries who may try to target the business directly. You have strategies in place to protect your data and overall business operations.
  • Level Three: Your business is protected against most attacks and prepared to address a threat as quickly and effectively as possible. Even in the event of a breach, your business has the means to protect basic operations.

Implementing Essential 8 security strategies

In order to implement the security your organisation needs, start with a comprehensive security assessment. A critical look at your business's current weaknesses offers a number of advantages.

  • Understand how vulnerable you are. If your business is highly vulnerable, you may need to act faster than if you are simply filling a few holes in your existing security system.
  • Map your vulnerabilities. Where is your organisation most vulnerable? Is there a vital weakness that you have left intact?
  • Prepare for the possibility of an attack. Increasingly, companies around the world are facing an increased risk of cyber attacks and extreme vulnerability. By understanding yours, you can take steps to remove those vulnerabilities and determine how you can best respond to a possible attack.

Once you have assessed your weaknesses, create a framework that will help you implement your new Essential 8 security plan.

While the framework is consistent across all types of businesses and industries, your needs are unique. Look at the key frameworks, identify the areas in which you are weakest, and create a strategy that fits the unique needs of your business. Make sure you take your unique industry, including its specific compliance standards and potential threats, into consideration as you develop your framework. You may also need to take your budget and the size of your business into account.

Why attempting to implement all 8 controls in your business could be challenging

Implementing any new framework brings with it potential risks and challenges. Make sure you are prepared for the challenges you may face as you bring your business in line with Essential 8 security standards. When you start to build your organisation’s cyber security plan, be aware of how you will handle the following challenges:

  • Budget constraints: Make sure you take the potential cost of a breach into account when creating your cybersecurity budget.
  • Legacy technology debt: Old technology may simply fail to come up to the standards your business needs to hit. However, upgrading to new technology or modernising your applications can be expensive and time-consuming if you don’t have the help of an experienced partner.
  • Internal organisation priorities: Often, your organisation will not prioritise cybersecurity, especially if it has other challenges it needs to focus on.
  • Lack of understanding: If your business does not understand the needed technology and approaches necessary to implement your plan, it can prove very difficult to get that new framework in place.

By addressing these challenges ahead of time, you significantly increase your overall odds of success.

Common oversights

There are several things that organisations often overlook when setting up their new cybersecurity plan:

  • Setting and forgetting: Once it's set up, you need to regularly monitor your security plan to ensure that it is working properly and adapt it as needed.
  • IoT devices and other internet-connected systems: These devices may not have the level of cybersecurity protection you expect, which means they can pose an unexpected vulnerability for your system. Lifts, photocopiers, and phones are all often connected to the internet, but they also frequently go overlooked.
  • Unattended and forgotten test environments: Test environments are essential to testing your organisation's security in a safer context, but they can also create unexpected vulnerabilities.
  • Old documents containing macros: Make sure you clear out those documents as needed.

Adopting a risk-based approach to your cyber security

Bear in mind that the primary goals of the Essential 8 are not simply to prove to regulators in your industry that your business is compliant. The primary goals of cyber security are:

  1. Secure your business
  2. Reduce business risk

A strong cybersecurity strategy requires commitment and support from senior management so that all departments and business units adopt a proactive approach to cybersecurity within their own spheres of influence. When each business unit is united towards the primary goals stated above, they will be focused on understanding the underlying risks and threats they could be responsible for. Create a Risk Management plan for your business that includes E8 security controls as well as clear steps to mitigate any risks that are identified.

E8 compliance should be viewed as a by-product of a robust and effective cybersecurity program.

A risk-based approach to cyber security will help keep your organisation focused on the right things to support and grow your business in the long term. Identifying and mitigating actual risks within the context of your industry and level of technical and organisational maturity is more important than simply meeting a set of regulatory requirements.

A risk-based approach to cyber security is tailored to the specific needs of your organisation. It will include a unique risk profile based on the current threat landscape as well as your business’s objectives. This approach also considers all aspects of the organisation's cybersecurity and attack surface, which includes not only technology but also the people and processes responsible for building, maintaining and utilising those technologies. Focusing on continuous improvement and ongoing assessment of risks and controls, within the larger context of evolving threat actors in your industry, is the best way to build a comprehensive and integrated cybersecurity program.

This approach also allows for flexibility since organisations can choose the controls that are most effective for their specific risks and budget.

Not all threats are created equal

In order to justify a business expense related to cyber security, first you must prove the potential risk. That is the philosophy at the heart of a risk-based cybersecurity approach.

Risk management starts with your organisation’s senior management, board, and directors setting a company-wide shift in mindset that cyber security controls are not simply another piece of bureaucracy or administrative paperwork - they are all being specifically designed to reduce the entire organisation’s level of risk. Without that understanding, the first time a E8 cyber security control impacts the business or impedes a department’s effectiveness, the risk of pushback or failure to properly implement those controls increases exponentially.

Demystify cyber risk management and root it in the language, structure, and expectations of business-risk management. When risk reduction and securing the business are primary goals throughout your organisation, everyone will prioritise investment based on the cybersecurity program’s effectiveness in reducing risk.

A risk-based approach helps align your organisation’s focus on building appropriate controls for the worst vulnerabilities. That is why it is important to think beyond simply being complaint with the E8 maturity model on paper, and focus more on how those controls fit in with the long-term goals of your organisation.

Insurance as risk mitigation

Many companies have cybersecurity insurance designed to protect them in the event of a breach. However, insurance is not a replacement for any of the security measures laid out in the Essential 8, and should not be used as such. Insurance can't restore lost data, nor can it help with reputational damage caused by an attack.

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Rushing Essential 8 implementation

Rushing to implement your organisation’s Essential 8 strategy can lead to nearly as many problems as failing to put a plan in place at all. Unfortunately, many businesses rush into cyber security planning process, fail to take stock of their circumstances, or attempt to cut corners during implementation. Again, rushing to achieve Essential 8 compliance within a tight timeframe may satisfy some short-term goals, but your business will not be able to maintain success and efficiency in the long run.

What rushing Essential 8 implementation looks like

Rushing to implement Essential 8 can include any of the following behaviours:

  • Skipping the planning and risk assessment stage of the process
  • Neglecting staff training
  • Prioritising compliance over security
  • Implementing new security measures without testing
  • Failing to monitor or update systems
  • Paralysing implementation gridlock

The consequences of rushing Essential 8 implementation

Taking shortcuts often leads to less than desirable outcomes. Here is what can happen when a business rushes into their implementation strategy:

  • Ineffective implementation
  • Inadequate security
  • A false sense of security around your new standards
  • Wasted resources, time, and money
  • Disruption to business operations due to poor implementation
  • Compliance fatigue, lack of commitment, and loss of focus

Go beyond Essential 8 compliance with Canon Business Solutions ANZ

When you work with Canon Business Services ANZ as your managed IT provider, you benefit from our years of experience and gain a true partner that can help you implement Essential 8 security standards in the best way for your business. We have the technology, tools, and training necessary to help you as you move toward a higher level of security for your brand in both the short and long term. Ready to get started? Contact us today to speak with an expert who can help expand your understanding of Essential 8 security and provide you with the tools and support you need.

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