How to Use Essential 8 Cyber Security to Prevent Malicious Attacks – 2024 Update

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Boost IT partners with the Australian Cyber Security Centre through the Joint Cyber Security Centre (JCSC) program. 

cyber security posture essential eight

Boost your Cyber Security Effort 

It’s never been more apparent that cyber security has become a default safety consideration in everyone’s modern lives. Whether a business or individual, most of us have been directly or indirectly impacted by malicious cybercrime. Even mega multinationals have had their cyber security breached, adversely affecting thousands of customers.

This unrelenting cyber security landscape requires a vigilant mitigation strategy that remains on guard for your 24/7 protection — introducing the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) Essential Eight mitigation strategies.

 

The Most Effective Cyber Security Mitigation Strategies

Of Australian cyber attacks officially reported, a huge 90% impact small businesses. Considering this staggering figure, it’s no surprise that 70% of small to medium-sized businesses nationwide have weak to no security and are specifically targeted by cybercriminals across a digitally connected global network.

If you fit this business profile, now is the time to take stock, evaluate your current cyber security position and take cost-effective measures to prevent a serious breach. It’s not only the immediate financial impacts that affect your business; there are a host of other negative repercussions, including productivity downtime, reputational damage and employee frustration, to name a few.

ASD’s Essential Eight are some of the most effective cyber security mitigation strategies.

This Boost IT article will walk you through the unpredictable world of domestic cyber security threats in easy-to-understand language. We’ll show you how to adopt the Australian Government-recommended Essential Eight mitigation strategies to pinpoint the baseline IT systems and protocols you need to avoid costly cyber security incidents.

Australian Cyber Security Statistics

The cyber threat landscape we face shows improved awareness and cyber security capabilities, but the threat and sophistication is growing.

The top 3 cybercrime types for business in 2022-23 was

  • email compromise
  • business email compromise fraud
  • online banking fraud.

Video: A clear picture of the top cyber threats and cyber security incidents affecting Australia – Nov 2023 ASD Gov AU

To peak your small business cyber security interest, let’s explore some eye-opening stats below.

recent trend of number of cybercrime reports in Australia

Above: Three-year trend showing increase of cybercrime cases reported in Australia

Above: Three-year trend of average cost to small businesses per cybercrime report.

Reports:  2020/2021 Annual Cyber Threat Report 

2021/2022 Annual Cyber Threat Report 

2022/2023 Annual Cyber Threat Report 

Table of Contents

Click the links below to move quickly to that section.

⇓ What is the Essential 8 cyber security?

⇓ Phase One — Prevent malware delivery and execution

⇓ Phase Two — Limit cyber security incidents

⇓ Phase Three — Recover data and system availability

⇓ Why Follow the Essential Eight Maturity Model?

⇓ What Can a Cyber Breach Cost A Small Business?

⇓ 3 Practical Ways to Protect Your Business

⇓ What should you do if your small business is compromised?

⇓ How to notify your affected customers of a severe cyber security breach

What is Essential Eight Cyber Security

The ASD developed the Essential Eight to help organisations protect their internet-connected information technology networks against cyber threats through a clear list of mitigation strategies.

There are many technical solutions to prevent malicious software attacks on your business, and the Australian Government prescribes the Essential Eight mitigation strategies as a robust measure for protection that’s tried and tested by notable companies and organisations of all sizes.

If you’re an Australian business currently working with the Australian Government Department of Defence or seeking to partner with them, you must additionally have the ASD Essential Eight cyber standard via stringent DISP accreditation.

Let’s now explore the eight individual mitigation strategies a little deeper to better understand this cyber security defence.

Essential 8 cyber security mitigation strategies

Phase One — Prevent malware delivery and execution

The first phase of Essential Eight cyber security is enlisting a foundational shield to block the intrusive brunt of sophisticated cyber attacks. Whether cybercriminals initially launch phishing attacks, hacking or malware, there are four Essential Eight mitigation strategies to put in place for protection.

  1. Application control: prevents unapproved and possibly harmful programs from installing and running on your computer systems.

 

  1. Patch applications: protects your technology from newly identified threats by always using the latest version of an application.

 

  1. Configure Microsoft Office macro settings: only permits trusted machines and individuals to access your business’ data from the internet.

 

  1. User application hardening: turns off unneeded features over various platforms (e.g. your web browser and Microsoft Office) as the less open you are, the fewer points of attack entry into your business — blocking ads and internet promotions also occur at this point.

 

Phase Two — Limit cyber security incidents

Unfortunately, there may be times when you can’t prevent a sophisticated cyber attack, as some are highly intuitive by design, ingeniously targeting system weak points. A critical step you can take is to ensure a cyber breach doesn’t extend its damage too far, like installing viruses or stealing sensitive data. This phase two stage recommends three Essential Eight mitigation strategies to put in place for future protection.

  1. Restrict administrative privileges: your operating system should be programmed to only allow specific individuals access to sensitive information. These administrative privileges should be regularly revalidated, and privileged accounts should not be used for casual web browsing, email checking or working remotely in insecure Wi-Fi environments.

 

  1. Patch operating systems: constantly updating your computer and network devices to the latest operating system protects them from the latest cyber threats.

 

  1. Multi-factor authentication: passwords are easily hacked, so they should be made secure with extra identification proof, especially when working remotely or accessing essential and sensitive data.

 

Phase Three — Recover data and system availability

When your cyber attack involves ransomware or your data has been corrupted, recovering a previous version of your latest data may be the only thing you can do to keep your business running. Phase three recommends a last resort Essential Eight mitigation strategy to put in place for protection.

  1. A daily backup system: your essential new and changed data should be backed up, with software and configuration settings stored safely and disconnected from your system to avoid risk. You must also identify your essential and sensitive data and determine the retention period of each — finance information might need seven years, while configuration settings only require three months. Regular testing of your restoration backup is also critical to ensure ongoing compliance and protection.

Why Follow the Essential Eight Maturity Model?

Malicious actors’ cyber security efforts are constantly evolving as they adopt new technology and advanced skills to try and infiltrate companies’ private data and information.

The Essential Eight Maturity Model (E8MM) helps you identify your company’s cyber security maturity and then guides you to gradually implement the Essential Eight mitigation strategies based on different levels of cybercriminal tradecraft and targeting (their tools, tactics, techniques and procedures used). Ideally, you’ll monitor and update the effectiveness of new controls until you confidently reach your desired target maturity level.

Generally, for most small to medium-sized businesses, Maturity Level One should suffice. For larger companies, Maturity Level Two is ordinarily applied. Companies in high-threat environments like infrastructure providers typically adopt Maturity Level Three.

You can also integrate the ASD Information Security Manual (ISM) within your E8MM for more robust cyber security measures — outlined in their Essential Eight Maturity Model and ISM Mapping publication.

The most up-to-date version of the Essential Eight Maturity Model (November 2023) should always be consulted to keep up with the latest cybercrime developments and malicious actors’ tradecraft. These new practices are proactively identified through the ASD cyber threat intelligence and security response functions. Superseded versions of the Essential Eight Maturity Model should never be used, as some content can be outdated and unsuitable for present-day protection.

We understand if this sounds overwhelming for your small business cyber security and technology level. That’s why our Boost IT cyber security specialists are here to help you roll out your custom Essential Eight Maturity Model easily with uncomplicated support throughout the ongoing process.

What Can a Cyber Breach Cost A Small Business?

What astounds us at Boost IT is that vigilant cyber security protection is not an urgent strategy on most Australian businesses’ radars.

Even after suffering a severe cyber incident, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) found that 72% of breached small companies thought it unlikely they would get attacked again and took no objective measures to counteract future cyber attacks. When you knowingly run the risk of ignoring cyber attacks, the stakes are high, so we’ve outlined some of the adverse effects below that may turn the spotlight onto rethinking your cyber security practices.

 

Your brand and reputation are at stake

Inadequate cyber security can put your business reputation on the line and, in some cases, irreparable jeopardy.

Since 2018, Australian cyber security law has become increasingly stringent regarding reporting cyber incidents involving the theft or loss of private data. The current act dictates companies must inform the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) and any individuals that the breach may “seriously harm”. Of course, the term “serious harm” is relative and includes physical, financial, psychological, reputational and emotional “harm”, with “seriousness” judged on a case-by-case scenario addressing repercussions such as:

 

  • The sensitivity of compromised private information — e.g. full name, date of birth, email address, home address, health information and payment details.
  • The security protections set in place to protect data.
  • The background of the cybercriminals who stole the data.
  • The nature of the “harm” caused to the people whose data was compromised.
  • How much damage can be prevented through remedial actions carried out by the affected business.

In all cases, a business must warn customers at risk, advising them of a website or system breach whereby their contact details, names, passwords, etc., have been compromised — also posting the cyber security breach clearly on their website. This high level of negative publicity and brand damage can be challenging to recover from, with customer trust broken and switching to a competitor now a viable option for them to consider.

 

Human error can also cause cyber security data breaches

It’s important to note that cyber security incidents aren’t just limited to malicious attacks from cybercriminals but can also include human and system negligence. Common issues that can significantly compromise your business operations and trustworthiness among customers include:

  • Losing laptops or having your hard drives stolen.
  • Giving access to sensitive data to unauthorised employees.
  • Sending an email or forwarding information to the wrong recipient.

On the odd occasion, you can quickly stop such breaches in their tracks, but you have to think fast and have a robust plan to activate. This is when the Essential Eight mitigation strategies come into play, troubleshooting the situation with pre-planned cyber security confidence.

 

Do you have a plan to mitigate the risks of cyber security data breaches?

Unpredictable cyber attacks will continuously prod at your business and test your defences, relentlessly trying to find weak points to infiltrate. Knowing where your current cyber security defences stand is essential to determine how prepared you are to prevent costly incidents and accidents from occurring. Alongside implementing Essential Eight cyber security, you can apply these four recommendations as a complementary data breach plan.

  1. Invest in a comprehensive Cyber Security Audit with a qualified Boost IT specialist.
  2. Conduct regular staff training to stay ahead of the cyber security curve.
  3. Assign a person or team responsible for updating security plans and training, and stay informed with news bulletins from the ACSC.
  4. Create likely case scenarios to practice Data Breach Response Guidelines that are easily laid out for everyone to follow.

Remember, being fully prepared for potential cyber security incidents is the most proactive way to avoid them.

Three Practical Ways To Protect Your Business

Not that we advocate for skipping any Essential Eight mitigation strategies where possible; we understand that some small businesses might not have the resources to apply their relevant maturity level. If this is the case, you should instate a few simple protections as a cyber security priority at the very minimum. Here’s how.

 

1.      Implement daily backups

To avoid risk, your essential data should be backed up daily, with software and configuration settings stored safely and disconnected from your system. It’s also paramount to regularly test your restoration backup to ensure operational reliability and protections are always in place. Contact a Boost IT technician today who can tailor-make a fail-safe system for your small business cyber security needs.

2.      Use a cloud-managed antivirus with patch management

Most businesses now operate their IT on the Cloud and are at greater cyber security risk if they don’t install the most appropriate antivirus software for protection. This itself isn’t enough, though. You must stay diligent and update your cyber security antivirus software, as an outdated version on any system or machine is an easy penetration target for malicious code. With Boost IT, our technicians will proactively inform you that a software update is needed to counteract any new cyber security threats.

3.      Multifactor authentication

Relying on a single security password isn’t safe anymore, as it only takes a savvy cybercriminal 5 seconds to hack an eight lowercase letter password with brute technical force. Some people conveniently decide to use the same password over various platforms, making hacking an even easier exercise for them. We recommend installing an extra authentication method requiring additional identification proof to avoid this type of breach, especially when working remotely or accessing essential and sensitive data. Boost IT can easily set up multifactor authentication for your team that’s simple to apply, with only minutes of online training needed.

What should you do if your small business cyber security is compromised?

If you should take away one key learning away from this cyber security article, it’s the following: prevention and planning can save you a costly recovery.

No matter how big or small your business, you must be prepared for malicious cyber security attacks or human error data breaches, with robust backups and plans set up for baseline protection — Essential Eight mitigation strategies being the ultimate course of action.

If your small business becomes an unfortunate victim of cybercrime and you lose money, please be aware that recovering any cash will be highly unlikely. We suggest contacting your bank immediately or any other institution you use to transfer money (e.g., PayPal, Western Union, Facebook, Gumtree, etc.), which will advise you of their policies and procedures to follow.

To help stop other businesses or individuals falling victim to the same type of cybercrime you experienced, it’s worthwhile reporting the incident to the Police, who can log it for future reference. Filing your report will also assist the ACSC and law enforcement agencies in disrupting Australia-targeted cybercrime operations, making it a safer country to conduct business online.

Finally, if something goes wrong within your cyber security and private data systems, you must tell your customers honestly in line with Australian Government regulations. Transparency is critical in rebuilding lost trust and brand confidence, as customers are more responsive when they see you’re making a concerted effort to rectify an incident for their benefit and the company’s future operations.

 

How to notify your affected customers of a severe cyber security breach

It’s essential to be on the front foot when notifying customers that their private data has, or may have, been breached. Taking a proactive approach when there’s an issue you can’t immediately solve goes a long way in restoring relationship credibility. We recommend a series of steps to cover below, aligned with policies outlined by the OAIC.

 

  1. Supply the company name affected and the relevant contact details to consult for more information — ordinarily, a designated phone number and email address.
  2. Clearly summarise the cyber security breach and any associated faults.
  3. Outline what customer information was leaked or stolen by cybercriminals.
  4. Pinpoint the steps affected customers should take in response to the cyber security incident.

 

Be cyber security vigilant, and don’t become a cyber security victim. Call a Boost IT specialist to protect your business IT bases with our range of cyber security best practices.

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