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The ASD essential 8 maturity model for cyber security

Andrew Robinson |

July 3, 2023
The ASD essential 8 maturity model for cyber security


Cyber crime is one of the biggest problems within society today. The impact that it has on businesses and the public is becoming more severe every day.

It is estimated that cyber crime will cost global businesses $6 trillion by the end of this year, rising to more than $10 trillion by 2025. It is striking small and medium businesses in particular, as they're often viewed as weak targets - and it's taking place at a rate that has been deemed 'out of control' by many experts interviewed on 6clicksTV.

Unfortunately, they have seen dozens of high-profile successful attacks over the last few months. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a 300% increase in reported cyber attacks. It takes at least 280 days for a company to notice a breach, of which 56% go undetected! All of this calls for an urgent need to take action. 

The cyber security landscape has changed dramatically in the last decade and it continues to evolve at a rapid rate. A cyber-attack on an organisation can be devastating financially, reputationally and even for national security. This is why cyber security is now such a high-priority concern for any business of any size, globally.

In Australia, there is a prominent concern that most Australian small businesses do not have cyber security awareness, strategies or plans in place. This is usually attributed to them not having the necessary cyber defence skills and expertise.

To help close this gap, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD)  launched its Essential 8 Framework - aimed at helping Australian businesses improve their cyber resilience and cyber defences.

What is the ASD Essential 8 Maturity Model?

Essential 8 is a set of eight priority actions developed by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to help Australian businesses reduce cyber security risks. It is based on the original Top-37 and provides a prioritised list of baseline security concerns. According to ASD, these eight controls alone have the potential to prevent up to 85% of cyberattacks.

The Australian Signals Directorate, in conjunction with the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC), has updated the list of recommendations based on feedback from the Australian cyber security community to help minimise the risk of cyber attacks. Hence, this maturity model is sometimes also referred to as ACSC essential 8. Read more in the practical guide for ACSC Essential 8.

It is important that these recommendations are implemented where possible, as they will increase your cyber strength. These recommendations generally provide a good return on investment and provide a great baseline when evaluating a cyber security strategy.

Establishing the Essential 8

The eight strategies were first published in February 2017. However, in 2014 the Australian Government had already made the top four compulsory for Australian Government departments and agencies. The remaining four are made mandatory by the Attorney-General’s Department’s PSPF (Protective Security Policy Framework).  

Moreover, the December 2019 release by ASD of the Australian Government Information Security Manual (ISM) stated that Australian businesses should implement the eight essential mitigation strategies as a baseline.

This baseline, known as the Essential Eight, makes it much harder for adversaries to compromise an organisation’s information security system. 

The Essential 8 maturity levels

Three distinct developmental stages have been established for every risk reduction approach, aimed at helping organisations assess the advancement of their implementation of Essential 8.

The maturity levels are defined as: 

  1. Maturity Level One: Partially in accordance with the objectives of the risk reduction approach
  2. Maturity Level Two: Largely consistent with the objectives of the risk reduction approach
  3. Maturity Level Three: Completely in line with the objectives of the risk reduction approach.

What maturity level should you aim for? 

Organisations ought to strive for Maturity Level Three as an initial goal for each risk reduction approach. However, certain organisations face frequent threats from highly proficient opponents or operate in elevated-risk settings. If the ACSC determines that an organisation necessitates a maturity level surpassing Maturity Level Three, it will offer customised guidance to accommodate the specific requirements of that organisation.  

Strategies of the ASD Essential 8

The cyber maturity model also helps businesses build their cyber capability by using a whole-of-organisation approach. It creates a focus on cyber attacks and cyber defence threats faced by individual departments and functions within an organisation. It ensures alignment of cyber security strategies, cyber processes and cyber awareness throughout the organisation.

Regardless of the jurisdiction or framework your government recommends, these eight key security controls are recognised as critical to cyber resilience, as they help prevent attacks, limit the impact of attacks and recover data and system availability. 


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A summary of the Essential 8 strategies

The following is a summarized version of the Essential 8 strategies:

  1. Application Control: to protect from malicious code, including executable files such as .exe and DLLs. Antivirus software can't detect all unapproved programs, so this control is necessary to add the extra level of security needed for business systems.

  2. Configure Microsoft Office Macro Settings: since they can contain malicious code. If you are running a macro, then it is best to enable it only from a trusted location, giving limited access or ensuring that the certificate used in signing the macro is trustworthy.

  3. Update Programs: such as Flash Player, Microsoft Office and internet browsers. Addressing system weaknesses by staying current with software updates or steering clear of flawed patches can prevent hackers from exploiting vulnerabilities to gain unauthorised access.

  4. User Application Hardening: the process of deciding what an application is allowed to do on a system. Deactivate any unnecessary functions in Microsoft Office, PDF readers, or internet browsers.

  5. Restrict Administrative Privileges: allow employees to only access applications and systems programmed for their job duties. Users with minimal computer privileges should not be given any more than is necessary to carry out daily tasks.

  6. Multi-factor Authentication: passwords alone are no longer adequate means of authenticating users and protecting them against hacks. With stronger multi-factor authentication, it is much more difficult for threat actors to gain unauthorised access.

  7. Patch Operating Systems: this is a strategy that not only mitigates the risk of attack but also reduces any potential damage. Upgrade to the newest operating system and patches instead of using unsupported versions.

  8. Daily Backups: of course, not every action you take will prevent cyber security incidents, but the one thing we know for sure is that if you have backups or an alternate system all ready to go, in the event of ransomware or another kind of operational failure, your data and software are more likely to be recoverable.

Is the ASD Essential 8 mandatory?

The Essential 8 is a set of cybersecurity best practices developed by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) to help organizations improve their resilience against cyberattacks. These practices cover a wide range of areas, including patching applications and operating systems, application whitelisting, user application hardening, and restricting administrative privileges.

Although the Essential 8 is not legally mandated by the government, it is highly recommended and widely considered as a cybersecurity compliance requirement for Australian businesses. Implementing the Essential 8 is seen as a crucial step in fortifying an organization's cyber defenses and mitigating the risk of cyber threats.

By following the Essential 8 guidelines, organizations can significantly enhance their cybersecurity posture and protect themselves from various security vulnerabilities. The practices outlined in the Essential 8 address common attack vectors and help eliminate outdated software and configuration settings that could be exploited by malicious actors.

To streamline and simplify compliance with the Essential 8, organizations can leverage an integrated Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) platform like 6clicks. This platform provides a comprehensive solution for managing cybersecurity risks and aligning with the Essential 8 maturity model, allowing organizations to effectively implement and maintain their cybersecurity practices.

In summary, while not mandatory by law, the Essential 8 is considered an essential set of cybersecurity best practices in Australia. Implementing these practices is crucial for organizations to fortify their defenses and mitigate the risk of cyber threats.

How to be compliant with the ASD Essential 8

In order to effectively protect their sensitive data and mitigate potential cyber threats, businesses need to ensure they are compliant with the ASD Essential Eight. The Essential Eight is a set of cyber security controls developed by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) that provides a framework for organizations to enhance their cyber security posture. Compliance with the Essential Eight is crucial for businesses to prevent cyber security incidents and maintain data privacy. To achieve compliance, organizations can utilize the 6clicks Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) platform. This platform offers a comprehensive suite of tools and processes that enable businesses to implement the necessary security controls, assess their cyber security maturity levels, and prioritize essential mitigation strategies. By leveraging the 6clicks GRC platform, organizations can enhance their cyber resilience, protect against malicious threats, and ensure they are meeting the requirements of the Essential Eight.

How to be compliant with the application control

To be compliant with application control, Australian businesses should implement a comprehensive whitelisting solution across all workstations and servers. This involves creating a list of approved applications that are allowed to run, and blocking all other unauthorized software. By using a whitelisting solution, businesses can ensure that only trusted applications are executed, greatly reducing the risk of malicious code and unauthorized programs.

In addition to implementing a whitelisting solution, businesses should also utilize Microsoft's latest block rules. Microsoft regularly releases updates and patches to address security vulnerabilities in their operating systems. By keeping systems up to date with the latest block rules, businesses can effectively mitigate various cyber threats and potential attacks.

To further enhance application security, it is recommended to implement attack surface reduction rules in parallel with whitelisting policies. Attack surface reduction rules help minimize the exposure of applications to potential exploits and vulnerabilities. This can be achieved through various measures such as disabling unnecessary features, limiting administrative privileges, and configuring software libraries and libraries with the latest security settings.

Patching applications (Operating Systems and Applications)

Patching applications, both operating systems and individual software, is a crucial step in maintaining a strong cyber security posture. It involves identifying and addressing vulnerabilities, both digital and analogue, to prevent potential cyber attacks.

To discover vulnerabilities, businesses can utilize various options. Self-assessments can be conducted to evaluate the security of their systems and applications. Additionally, audit reports can provide insights into existing vulnerabilities that may have been identified during regular security assessments.

Another valuable resource for vulnerability discovery is the NIST vulnerability database. This database contains information about known vulnerabilities and provides details on how to mitigate them effectively. By regularly checking this database, businesses can stay up to date with the latest threats and take appropriate actions.

It is essential to assign a level of criticality to each identified vulnerability. This helps prioritize which vulnerabilities need immediate attention and which can be addressed later. By employing a risk-based approach, businesses can focus on addressing the vulnerabilities that pose the most significant threats to their systems and data.

Microsoft's automated vulnerability management capability plays a significant role in deploying patches effectively. This capability automates the process of identifying and deploying necessary patches to operating systems and applications. By utilizing this feature, businesses can streamline their patching process and ensure that their systems are protected against known vulnerabilities.

By regularly patching applications, businesses can minimize the risk of cyber attacks and enhance their overall cyber security posture. It is crucial to prioritize this practice and take the necessary steps to identify and address vulnerabilities promptly.

Extreme Risk

Extreme risk vulnerabilities in the context of cybersecurity refer to vulnerabilities that present the highest level of threat to an organization's systems and data. These vulnerabilities are particularly worrisome because they may facilitate unauthorized remote access, potentially compromising critical business solutions and systems. What distinguishes extreme risk vulnerabilities from others is the absence of any mitigation controls in place to address them effectively.

Extreme risk vulnerabilities are often public-facing and connected to the internet, making them attractive targets for cybercriminals. Exploiting these vulnerabilities can allow unauthorized individuals to gain remote access to an organization's network, enabling them to potentially infiltrate sensitive data or disrupt critical operations. The lack of mitigation controls further exacerbates the risk, as there are no safeguards in place to prevent or minimize the impact of such attacks.

Given the severity of extreme risk vulnerabilities, organizations must prioritize their identification and immediate resolution. Regular vulnerability assessments and penetration testing can aid in the identification of these vulnerabilities, enabling organizations to deploy suitable mitigating controls promptly. Furthermore, organizations can leverage cybersecurity platforms like the 6clicks GRC platform for ASD Essential 8 compliance to streamline vulnerability management processes and enhance overall cybersecurity posture.

High Risk

High-risk vulnerabilities pose a significant threat to critical business solutions and systems. These vulnerabilities have characteristics that make them particularly dangerous for organizations. Firstly, high-risk vulnerabilities can potentially provide unauthorized individuals with remote access to an organization's network. This remote access can be exploited by cybercriminals to infiltrate sensitive data or disrupt critical operations.

Moreover, high-risk vulnerabilities often target public-facing and internet-connected systems, making them attractive targets for attackers. They exploit weaknesses in the system's security controls, allowing unauthorized remote access. This unauthorized access can have severe consequences for organizations, including financial loss, reputational damage, and legal liabilities.

In a strong enclave, mitigating controls are put in place to minimize the impact of high-risk vulnerabilities. These controls serve as an added layer of protection against unauthorized access. By implementing measures such as multi-factor authentication, application whitelisting, and regular patching of operating systems and software libraries, organizations can significantly reduce their risk exposure.


Moderate Risk

At the Moderate Risk level, organizations face vulnerabilities that can potentially expose their systems to threat actors posing as legitimate users. These vulnerabilities can lead to unauthorized remote access and compromise the integrity and confidentiality of sensitive data.

One key vulnerability at this level is the lack of two-factor authentication. Without this additional layer of security, attackers can easily gain access to systems and pose as authorized users. This not only gives them remote access to critical resources but also exposes remote access controls to untrusted users.

To mitigate these vulnerabilities, organizations must implement robust security measures. Two-factor authentication is a crucial control that should be in place to guard against unauthorized access. This mechanism ensures that users provide two different types of evidence (such as a password and a one-time code or a fingerprint) to verify their identity, making it significantly harder for threat actors to impersonate legitimate users.

Additionally, organizations should also consider implementing other essential controls, such as regular patching of operating systems and software libraries, user application hardening, and application whitelisting. These measures help minimize the attack surface and enhance the overall security posture.

Low Risk

In the Essential 8 cybersecurity framework, the Low Risk category signifies a relatively lower level of vulnerability and the presence of essential mitigation controls. However, there are still certain characteristics and vulnerabilities associated with this level that organizations should be aware of.

One common vulnerability that authenticated users can exploit is SQL injection attacks. These attacks involve the insertion of malicious SQL code into a web application's database query, allowing unauthorized access to the database and potential exposure of sensitive data. To mitigate this risk, organizations should employ measures such as input validation, parameterized queries, and secure coding practices to prevent the injection of malicious SQL code.

The Low Risk level is determined by various factors, including the absence of critical cybersecurity risks and the implementation of necessary security controls. Examples of public-facing resources that typically fall into the Low Risk category are informational websites or blogs that do not store or process sensitive data. These resources may provide general information, news articles, or marketing content without requiring user authentication or collecting personal information.

By adhering to the best practices and mitigation controls recommended by the Essential 8 framework, organizations can maintain a Low Risk level and ensure the security of their public-facing resources. By implementing measures such as input validation and secure coding practices, they can effectively mitigate vulnerabilities such as SQL injection attacks and protect their systems and data from potential breaches.

Applying Patches

Applying patches in a timely manner is crucial for maintaining a strong cyber security posture and mitigating potential vulnerabilities. The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) outlines risk categories that prioritize the severity of vulnerabilities, providing guidance on which patches should be prioritized for installation.

Adhering to the ASD risk categories enables organizations to allocate resources effectively, focusing on addressing high-risk vulnerabilities first. By applying patches promptly, organizations can close security gaps and protect their systems against known vulnerabilities that could be exploited by cyber threats.

However, patch installations can sometimes cause system disruptions, leading organizations to approach them with caution. It is essential to thoroughly test patches in a non-production environment before deploying them in production systems to minimize the risk of unintended consequences.

To stay updated on the latest patches released by vendors, organizations can refer to the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) vulnerability database. This comprehensive resource provides information on vulnerabilities and corresponding patches, ensuring organizations have the necessary information to make informed decisions about patch application.

How to be compliant with the patch application control

To be compliant with patch application control as recommended by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), organizations should follow a series of strategies and steps.

Firstly, organizations should prioritize the implementation of security patches for extreme risk vulnerabilities within 48 hours of their release. This ensures that critical vulnerabilities are addressed promptly, minimizing the window of exposure to potential cyber threats.

Secondly, organizations should confirm that all necessary patches have been installed across their systems. 

Furthermore, organizations should ensure that internal applications are compatible with patched vendor software. This can be achieved by mapping their systems and applications to popular assessment frameworks and leveraging the custom questionnaire builder provided by platforms like 6clicks GRC. These steps help identify any compatibility issues and ensure that all applications are patched and functioning securely.

Application hardening

Application hardening is a crucial aspect of enhancing the security posture of software applications. By implementing various methods such as code obfuscation, binary packing, and white-box cryptography, organizations can effectively protect their applications from reverse engineering and tampering.

Code obfuscation involves transforming the source code of an application into a form that is difficult to understand or reverse engineer. This technique helps to conceal the logic and structure of the code, making it more challenging for attackers to decipher its functionality. By deliberately inserting irrelevant or misleading code and renaming variables and functions, code obfuscation can deter reverse engineering attempts.

Binary packing involves compressing and encrypting the executable file of an application. This technique helps to obfuscate the file's content and make it more challenging for attackers to analyze or modify the binary code. By encrypting the packed file, it becomes harder for adversaries to manipulate or tamper with the application's code or data.

White-box cryptography is an approach that combines encryption and obfuscation techniques within the application itself. It involves embedding cryptographic keys directly into the application's code, making it resistant to key extraction attacks. This method protects sensitive information and cryptographic operations within the application, making it difficult for attackers to compromise the security of the application.

Application hardening methods

Application hardening methods are crucial for increasing the cyber threat resilience of online applications. These methods aim to protect applications from reverse engineering and tampering, ensuring the security of sensitive information and preventing unauthorized access. Here are some key application hardening methods:

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  1. Code Obfuscation: Code obfuscation involves transforming the source code of an application into a more complex and confusing form. By renaming variables and functions and inserting irrelevant or misleading code, code obfuscation makes it challenging for attackers to understand the logic and structure of the code.
  2. Binary Packing: Binary packing compresses and encrypts the executable file of an application. This technique obfuscates the content of the file, making it difficult for attackers to analyze or modify the binary code. By encrypting the packed file, it becomes harder for adversaries to tamper with the application's code or data.
  3. White-box Cryptography: White-box cryptography combines encryption and obfuscation techniques within the application itself. It involves embedding cryptographic keys directly into the application's code, making it resistant to key extraction attacks. This method protects sensitive information and cryptographic operations within the application, making it difficult for attackers to compromise the application's security.
  4. Android Rooting Detection: For Android applications, implementing rooting detection mechanisms can help detect if a device has been rooted. Rooted devices are more vulnerable to attacks, so detecting and handling them appropriately can enhance the application's security.
  5. Integrity Checking: Implementing integrity-checking mechanisms allows the application to verify the integrity of its code and data. This helps detect any unauthorized modifications or tampering, alerting the application to potential security breaches.

By implementing these application hardening methods, online applications can significantly enhance their cyber threat resilience and protect against reverse engineering and tampering attempts.

Methods of preventing application reverse engineering

Preventing application reverse engineering is crucial in safeguarding sensitive information and protecting the intellectual property of an application. There are several methods that can be employed to deter and hinder reverse engineering attempts.

One effective approach is the use of code obfuscation techniques. Code obfuscation involves transforming the source code of an application into a more complex and confusing form. By renaming variables and functions and inserting irrelevant or misleading code, code obfuscation makes it challenging for attackers to understand the logic and structure of the code.

Another method is the implementation of anti-debugging code. Anti-debugging code is designed to detect and block common debugging methods used by attackers during reconnaissance campaigns. For example, the IsDebuggerPresent function can be utilized to check if a debugger is attached to the application. If a debugger is detected, the application can take specific actions to disrupt the debugging process or even terminate itself to prevent further analysis.

2. Code obfuscation

Code obfuscation is a technique used in cybersecurity to protect sensitive information and prevent reverse engineering of applications. It involves transforming the source code of an application into a more complex and confusing form, making it challenging for attackers to understand the logic and structure of the code.

The purpose of code obfuscation is to confuse hackers and deter them from analyzing the code to uncover vulnerabilities or exploit them for malicious purposes. Strategic additions, modifications, and encryptions are used to achieve this.

Strategic additions involve inserting irrelevant or misleading code into the application. This can include adding extra variables or functions that serve no real purpose, making it difficult for attackers to differentiate between important and irrelevant code.

Modifications involve altering the structure or syntax of the code. Renaming variables and functions can further obfuscate the code, making it harder for attackers to understand its intended purpose or functionality.

Encryption is another common technique used in code obfuscation. By encrypting certain portions of the code, it becomes more difficult for attackers to decipher the underlying logic and extract sensitive information.

3. Binary packing

Binary packing is a technique used in cybersecurity to prevent static analysis of applications by encrypting them when they are downloaded. This helps to make it more difficult for attackers to analyze and understand the code, thereby increasing the security of the applications.

When an application is packed using binary packing, the original code is compressed and encrypted into a single packed file. When the packed file is executed, it is decrypted in memory and then executed by the operating system. This process makes it challenging for attackers to perform static analysis on the application because the original code is not easily accessible.

By encrypting applications during the downloading process, binary packing adds an additional layer of security. The encrypted code is difficult to understand, making it harder for attackers to extract sensitive information or identify vulnerabilities within the application. This helps to protect against attacks such as reverse engineering, code tampering, and unauthorized access.

In addition to binary packing, there are other methods used to prevent static analysis of applications. These include code obfuscation, which makes the code more complex and challenging to analyze, and anti-debugging techniques, which detect and prevent debugging of the application. By employing these different methods, organizations can effectively safeguard their applications from malicious attacks and maintain a higher level of cybersecurity.

4. White-box cryptography

White-box cryptography is a technique used to secure secret keys within an application by integrating them in a way that they are protected even when the application is running on an untrusted environment. Unlike traditional cryptographic methods where secret keys are stored separately from the application, white-box cryptography embeds the keys directly into the application's code.

The main advantage of white-box cryptography is that it provides a higher level of security against attacks such as reverse engineering or tampering. By integrating the secret keys into the application, they are protected from being extracted or accessed by malicious actors. The encryption and decryption operations are also performed within the application's code, ensuring that the keys remain secure even if the application is compromised.

However, implementing white-box cryptography can be challenging. One of the main challenges is maintaining cryptographic hash whitelisting for updated applications. Cryptographic hash whitelisting involves checking the integrity of an application by comparing its cryptographic hash value with a trusted value. When an application is updated, its code changes, and the cryptographic hash value will also change. This means that the whitelisting process needs to be continuously audited and updated to ensure that only authorized and updated applications are allowed to run.

In conclusion, white-box cryptography is a powerful technique that enhances the security of secret keys within an application. However, proper management and continuous auditing of cryptographic hash whitelisting are essential to ensure the security and integrity of updated applications.

Methods of application tampering protection

Application tampering protection is an essential component of cybersecurity strategies, helping to safeguard software integrity and protect against malicious attacks. There are several methods that can be implemented to enhance application tampering protection and bolster cybersecurity measures.

One effective method is the implementation of iOS jailbreak detection. This mechanism specifically targets iOS applications and detects any attempts to gain root access on jailbroken devices. Root access can enable unauthorized access and manipulation of sensitive data or application code. By detecting and reporting these root access attempts, organizations can take immediate action to mitigate potential risks and protect their applications.

In addition to iOS jailbreak detection, application control measures play a crucial role in protecting against tampering. Application control involves implementing restrictions on what software can run on a system, ensuring that only authorized and trusted applications are allowed to execute. By limiting the execution of unauthorized or malicious applications, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of application tampering and increase overall cybersecurity posture.

It's important to note that application control measures should be implemented alongside other sophisticated cybersecurity solutions, such as multi-factor authentication, regular backups, and patch management. This holistic approach ensures a comprehensive defense against cyber threats and strengthens overall security resilience.

2. Android rooting detection

Android rooting detection plays a vital role in ensuring the security of Android devices. Android rooting refers to the process of gaining privileged access or control over the Android operating system. While rooting can provide users with greater control and customization options, it also poses a potential security risk.

Rooting removes certain security mechanisms and protections implemented by the device manufacturer or operating system, leaving the device more vulnerable to malicious activities, such as unauthorized access, data breaches, and the installation of malicious applications. It effectively bypasses the built-in security features, making it easier for malicious actors to exploit vulnerabilities and gain complete control over the device.

To mitigate the security risks associated with Android rooting, various methods and techniques are employed for detection. These techniques include analyzing the system's integrity, checking for system inconsistencies or anomalies, monitoring for signs of tampering, and detecting the presence of malicious applications or modifications. Additionally, specific tools and algorithms are utilized to identify abnormalities in the device's behavior or changes to its system files or configurations.

In the context of the Essential 8 cybersecurity framework, Android rooting detection plays a crucial role in achieving a higher level of maturity and resilience. By implementing effective rooting detection measures, organizations can enhance their overall cybersecurity posture and mitigate the risks posed by rooted Android devices. This proactive approach helps protect sensitive data, prevent unauthorized access, and safeguard against potential cyber threats. The use of a comprehensive governance, risk, and compliance (GRC) platform, such as the 6clicks GRC platform, can assist organizations in achieving compliance with the essential mitigation strategies outlined in the Essential 8 framework. This ensures that Android rooting detection is incorporated into their cybersecurity practices to protect against emerging threats and maintain a strong security posture.

3. Integrity checking

Integrity checking is a critical concept in cybersecurity that involves continuously monitoring the integrity and authenticity of code or system components to ensure they have not been modified or tampered with by unauthorized parties. It plays a vital role in maintaining the security and trustworthiness of software and systems.

In the context of cyber security, integrity checkers are deployed to detect any unauthorized modifications made to code, files, or configurations. These checkers compare the current state of the system against a known baseline or reference point to identify any changes or inconsistencies. When a modification is detected, integrity checkers trigger various actions to mitigate the potential risk posed by the unauthorized modification.

These actions can include notifying security teams and administrators of the change, generating log messages to document the occurrence, initiating custom response functions, or even shutting down the affected application or system. By triggering these actions, integrity checkers allow for prompt investigation and remediation of any potential security breaches or malicious activities.

Integrity checkers provide an essential layer of defense against code modifications that could introduce vulnerabilities or compromise the security of a system. By continuously monitoring for unauthorized changes and triggering appropriate actions, integrity checkers help ensure the integrity and security of software and systems, enabling security teams to respond swiftly and effectively to any potential threats.

How to be compliant with the application hardening control

To achieve compliance with the application hardening control recommended by the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) in their Essential 8 framework, several strategies can be implemented.

One important aspect of application hardening is configuring web browsers to block or disable support for Flash content. Flash has long been known to have security vulnerabilities, and blocking its use in web browsers helps mitigate the risk of potential exploits. Similarly, disabling Flash content support in Microsoft Office applications further reduces the attack surface.

Another strategy is configuring web browsers to block web advertisements and Java on accessed websites. Web advertisements can serve as a vector for malware distribution, while Java has been a common target for cyber attacks due to its vulnerabilities. Blocking these features reduces the likelihood of malicious code being executed on the user's system.

Restrict administrative privileges

Restricting administrative privileges is a crucial aspect of cyber security that involves limiting access to systems and applications based on user tasks. By implementing this practice, organizations can significantly reduce the risk of unauthorized actions or malicious activities occurring within their networks.

One way to achieve this is by periodically reviewing the need for privileges. This involves regularly evaluating the access levels granted to users and determining if any adjustments can be made to limit or remove administrative privileges that are no longer necessary for their roles. This ensures that only the essential privileges are being granted, minimizing the potential attack surface.

Additionally, organizations can restrict the use of privileged accounts for activities such as reading email and browsing the internet. By enforcing this restriction, the risk of these accounts being compromised through email-based attacks or malicious websites is significantly reduced. This approach helps protect sensitive information and prevents malicious actors from gaining unauthorized access to critical systems.

It is also crucial to validate privileged access and limit it to specific tasks. This means ensuring that users with privileged accounts only have the necessary access required to perform their designated responsibilities. By implementing a risk-based approach to access control, organizations can enforce the principle of least privilege and minimize the potential impact of any unauthorized activities.

Furthermore, automatic disabling of privileged access after periods of inactivity adds an extra layer of security. By implementing mechanisms to detect and disable unused privileged accounts, organizations can mitigate the risk of these accounts being compromised or used for malicious purposes.

Overall, restricting administrative privileges through limiting access, periodic reviews, and task-specific validation, while also implementing automatic disabling measures, is essential for maintaining a strong cyber security posture and protecting against potential threats.

How to be compliant with the administrative privilege restriction control

To achieve compliance with the administrative privilege restriction control, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) recommends implementing several strategies.

Firstly, organizations should validate privileged access by ensuring that users with administrative privileges only have the necessary access required to perform their designated responsibilities. This means limiting access to those who genuinely need it and using a risk-based approach to enforce the principle of least privilege. Regular validation of these privileges ensures that only essential access is granted and helps minimize the potential impact of any unauthorized activities.

Additionally, implementing technical controls is essential to prevent privileged users from engaging in certain activities that may pose security risks. For example, restricting the use of privileged accounts for activities such as reading email and browsing the internet reduces the risk of these accounts being compromised through email-based attacks or malicious websites. By enforcing this restriction, sensitive information is protected, and the chances of malicious actors gaining unauthorized access to critical systems are significantly reduced.

To simplify the process of achieving compliance with the administrative privilege restriction control, organizations can leverage GRC (Governance, Risk, and Compliance) platforms like the 6clicks platform for ASD Essential 8 compliance. These platforms provide a comprehensive framework for managing cybersecurity practices, including administrative privilege restriction. By leveraging such platforms, organizations can streamline their compliance efforts and ensure that they are following the recommended strategies effectively.

Configure Microsoft Office macros

Configuring Microsoft Office macros is an important step in enhancing cybersecurity within an organization. Macros are small programs that automate tasks in Microsoft Office applications, such as Excel and Word. While macros can be useful in increasing efficiency and productivity, they also pose potential risks if not properly managed.

One of the main risks associated with macros is that they can be used as a method for spreading malware. Malicious actors can create macros that contain malicious code, which can be executed when a user opens a document or spreadsheet containing the infected macro. This can lead to the installation of malware, unauthorized access to sensitive data, or other cybersecurity incidents.

To mitigate these risks, organizations should implement several security measures when dealing with macros. First, it is recommended to restrict macro execution to only signed macros. This ensures that only trusted macros from verified sources are allowed to run, reducing the risk of executing malicious code.

Additionally, organizations should block macros from the internet to prevent users from inadvertently downloading infected macros. This can be done by configuring security settings within Microsoft Office applications to disable or block macros that are sourced from the internet.

Lastly, it is important to prevent users from modifying macro security settings to ensure consistent and secure use of macros. By restricting user access to macro security settings, organizations can prevent users from disabling security controls and potentially exposing the system to malware.

How to be compliant with the MS Office macro restriction control

To be compliant with the MS Office macro restriction control and ensure maximum security, organizations need to take several steps. First and foremost, it is important to disable macros by default in MS Office applications. By doing this, organizations can prevent the inadvertent execution of potentially malicious macros.

In addition to disabling macros, organizations should also implement controls such as permitting macros only in documents from Trusted Locations. By specifying certain folders or network locations as Trusted Locations, organizations can allow macros only in files from these trusted sources, reducing the risk of executing malicious code from unknown or unverified sources.

To further enhance security, organizations should also limit macro write access to approved users. By restricting write access to macros, organizations can prevent unauthorized modifications and ensure that only trusted individuals are able to make changes to macros.

Lastly, it is crucial to block all macros accessed from the internet. By configuring the MS Office macro settings to block macros sourced from the internet, organizations can prevent users from inadvertently downloading and executing potentially malicious macros.

Multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a critical component of any comprehensive cyber security framework. It enhances security by requiring users to authenticate with two or more factors, greatly reducing the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive information and systems.

Implementing MFA provides several benefits for organizations. Firstly, it strengthens the authentication process by adding an additional layer of security beyond just a username and password. This makes it significantly more difficult for attackers to gain unauthorized access, even if they have obtained or guessed the user's login credentials.

Secondly, MFA helps protect against various cyber threats, such as phishing attacks and password theft. With MFA in place, even if an attacker manages to obtain a user's password, they would still need the additional authentication factors to successfully log in.

To ensure a comprehensive MFA strategy, users should authenticate with three attributes: something they know (such as a password or PIN), something they have (such as a smartphone or security token), and something they are (such as a biometric identifier like a fingerprint or facial recognition). By combining these three factors, organizations can significantly enhance their security posture and better protect their sensitive information.

However, it's important to address critiques regarding the controls for MFA in the maturity model. Organizations should regularly evaluate and update their MFA controls to keep up with evolving cyber threats and industry best practices. Additionally, proper user education and awareness about the importance of MFA are crucial to ensure its effective implementation and adoption.

How to be compliant with the MFA control

To be compliant with the MFA control for remote devices, organizations should implement several measures. Firstly, they need to enforce the use of at least two authentication layers for remote device access. This can include a combination of passwords, U2F security keys, OTP tokens, biometrics, and smartcards. By requiring multiple factors for authentication, organizations can significantly enhance the security of remote access.

In addition to the basic MFA requirements, there are additional recommendations to strengthen security. One such recommendation is to enforce MFA for privileged accounts. Privileged accounts have access to critical systems and resources, making them prime targets for attackers. Implementing MFA for privileged accounts adds an extra layer of protection, reducing the risk of unauthorized access.

Furthermore, organizations should also enforce MFA for sensitive resource access requests. Sensitive resources may include sensitive data or systems with high impact if compromised. By requiring MFA for accessing these resources, organizations can ensure that only authorized individuals with valid authentication factors can gain access.

Daily backups

Daily backups are a critical component of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. They ensure that in the event of a cyber incident or data loss, organizations have a recent copy of their important files and data that can be restored.

There are different backup strategies that can be implemented based on an organization's requirements and risk appetite. One such strategy is full backups, where a complete copy of all data is made on a daily basis. This provides the highest level of backup and is suitable for organizations with a low tolerance for data loss. However, full backups can be time-consuming and require a large amount of storage space.

Another strategy is incremental backups, which only backup the changes made since the last backup. This strategy is faster and requires less storage space compared to full backups. However, in the event of a data loss, the restore process can be more complicated as it involves restoring the full backup and all subsequent incremental backups.

Differential backups are similar to incremental backups, but they backup the changes made since the last full backup. This strategy strikes a balance between full backups and incremental backups, as it requires less storage space and faster backup compared to full backups, while also simplifying the restore process compared to incremental backups.

To learn more about the importance of daily backups and different backup strategies, organizations can take advantage of webinars and blog resources provided by cybersecurity experts like 6clicks. These resources can offer valuable insights and guidance on implementing effective backup strategies to enhance cyber resilience.

How to be compliant with the daily backups control

To be compliant with the daily backups control, organizations must adhere to specific requirements set forth by regulatory bodies such as the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD). These requirements are designed to ensure the preservation of digital assets and minimize data loss in the event of a cyber security incident.

To achieve compliance with the daily backups control, organizations must design and implement digital preservation policies that outline the backup and restoration processes for their critical data and configuration settings. This includes the use of multiple data backup and restoration processes, ensuring that backups are dispersed across multiple geographical locations to mitigate the risk of a single point of failure.

Regular testing of restoration procedures is also essential to compliance. Organizations should routinely perform restoration tests to verify the integrity and effectiveness of their backup and restoration processes. This allows them to identify any potential issues or gaps in their procedures and make necessary improvements.

In addition to these measures, organizations must also ensure that critical data and configuration settings are backed up on a daily basis. This allows for minimal data loss in the event of a cyber security incident and enables prompt recovery.

Furthermore, organizations should retain their backups for at least three months to comply with regulatory requirements. This ensures that historical data is available for analysis and recovery purposes.

To simplify the compliance process and ensure effective implementation of the daily backups control, organizations can utilize GRC (Governance, Risk, and Compliance) platforms such as 6clicks. The 6clicks GRC platform provides comprehensive solutions for ASD Essential 8 compliance, including guidance and tools for designing and implementing robust daily backup processes and policies.

6clicks helps Australian businesses comply with the Essential 8 cybersecurity framework

6clicks is a comprehensive GRC (Governance, Risk, and Compliance) platform that offers Australian businesses a streamlined solution for achieving compliance with the Essential 8 cybersecurity framework. Designed specifically to address the unique cybersecurity risks faced by organizations, 6clicks provides a range of solutions that aid in implementing and maintaining compliance with the Essential Eight guidelines.

By utilizing the 6clicks platform, Australian businesses can effectively navigate the complexities of the Essential 8 cybersecurity framework. The platform offers a centralized location for managing and monitoring compliance efforts, providing organizations with a clear overview of their cybersecurity posture. With features such as risk assessments, control assessments, and task management, 6clicks enables businesses to assess their current cybersecurity maturity level and identify areas for improvement.

In addition, 6clicks provides tailored solutions that align with the specific requirements of the Essential 8 guidelines. These solutions encompass a wide range of cybersecurity practices, including multi-factor authentication, application whitelisting, regular backups, patch management, and user application hardening. With 6clicks, organizations can easily implement and enforce these essential mitigation strategies, ensuring a strong security posture.

Final thoughts on the ASD Essential 8

Organisations should start by implementing the Essential 8 cyber security controls rather than following a specific cyber security framework. These eight key cyber security controls will help your organisation stay cyber resilient, analyse your security posture and that of your chosen vendors and protect your data, systems and services from cyber threats.

A realistic approach to protecting your business is to not stop with Essential 8; instead, you should regularly review your systems and strengthen them against cyber attacks.

The latest version of the ASD Essential 8 and an accompanying maturity assessment is available now in the 6clicks Content Library.

At 6clicks, we can also help you in assessing various risks. Explore the 6clicks solution to support your ASD Essential 8 compliance and book a demo with our team today to see it in action.



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Andrew Robinson

Written by Andrew Robinson

Andrew started his career in the startup world and went on to perform in cyber and information security advisory roles for the Australian Federal Government and several Victorian Government entities. Andrew has a Masters in Policing, Intelligence and Counter-Terrorism (PICT) specialising in Cyber Security and holds IRAP, ISO 27001 LA, CISSP, CISM and SCF certifications.