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Understanding the Essential 8 Maturity Model: Updates and Implementation Guidance

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) introduced the Essential 8 framework as a set of baseline strategies to help organisations mitigate cyber threats. The Essential 8 has been pivotal in enhancing cybersecurity resilience across various sectors. Recent updates to the Essential 8 Maturity Model reflect evolving cyber threats and provide enhanced guidelines to better manage cybersecurity risks. This article will explore these updates, focusing on internet access by privileged accounts, credential management, and hardening of administrative infrastructure, and offer guidance on implementing these strategies effectively.

Overview of the Essential 8

The Essential 8 framework consists of eight key strategies designed to protect organisations from a range of cyber threats:

  1. Application Control
  2. Patch Applications
  3. Configure Microsoft Office Macro Settings
  4. User Application Hardening
  5. Restrict Administrative Privileges
  6. Patch Operating Systems
  7. Multi-factor Authentication (MFA)
  8. Regular Backups

Each of these strategies targets specific vulnerabilities and collectively forms a comprehensive defence mechanism.

The Essential 8 Maturity Model

The maturity model for the Essential 8 outlines three levels of maturity:

  1. Maturity Level One: Basic protection against commodity threats.
  2. Maturity Level Two: Enhanced protection against more sophisticated threats.
  3. Maturity Level Three: Advanced protection with adaptive capabilities against highly sophisticated threats.

Recent Updates to the Essential 8 Maturity Model

The ACSC has recently updated the Essential 8 Maturity Model to address the evolving landscape of cyber threats and provide clearer, more actionable guidance for organisations. These updates include changes to the requirements for internet access by privileged accounts, management of credentials, and the hardening of administrative infrastructure.

1. Internet Access by Privileged Accounts

Update: The updated model emphasises stricter controls on internet access for privileged accounts. Privileged accounts with high levels of access are valuable targets for attackers, and limiting their internet access reduces the risk of these accounts being compromised via phishing attacks or malicious websites.

Implementation Guidance:

  • Isolate Privileged Accounts: Ensure that privileged accounts are used only for administrative tasks and are not used for general internet browsing or email.
  • Network Segmentation: Implement network segmentation to isolate systems that can be accessed by privileged accounts from the rest of the network.
  • Web Filtering: Use web filtering to restrict access to known malicious sites and enforce safe browsing policies.

Best Practices:

  • Regularly review the internet access policies for privileged accounts and adjust them as necessary to mitigate emerging threats.
  • Train administrators on the importance of using separate accounts for administrative tasks and general use.

2. Management of Credentials

Update: Enhanced guidelines for credential management focus on preventing credential theft and misuse. This includes the use of multi-factor authentication (MFA) and stronger password policies.

Implementation Guidance:

  • Multi-factor Authentication: Implement MFA for all accounts, especially those with privileged access. MFA adds an extra layer of security, making it more difficult for attackers to gain unauthorised access.
  • Password Policies: Enforce strong password policies, including requirements for length, complexity, and regular changes.
  • Credential Vaulting: Use secure credential vaults to store and manage credentials, reducing the risk of exposure.

Best Practices:

  • Educate users on creating strong, unique passwords and the importance of not reusing passwords across different accounts.
  • Regularly audit the use of privileged accounts and credentials to ensure compliance with security policies.

3. Hardening of Administrative Infrastructure

Update: The updated model includes more detailed guidance on hardening administrative infrastructure to protect against sophisticated attacks that target administrative controls and systems.

Implementation Guidance:

  • Administrative Workstations: Use dedicated administrative workstations that are hardened and isolated from the rest of the network. These workstations should have minimal software installed to reduce the attack surface.
  • Security Baselines: Develop and enforce security baselines for all administrative systems, ensuring they are configured securely and kept up to date with the latest patches.
  • Monitoring and Logging: Implement comprehensive monitoring and logging for administrative activities. This helps detect and respond to suspicious behaviour quickly.

Best Practices:

  • Regularly review and update hardening policies to reflect new threats and vulnerabilities.
  • Conduct regular penetration testing and vulnerability assessments to identify and remediate weaknesses in administrative infrastructure.

Steps to Implement the Essential 8

Successfully adopting the Essential 8 and progressing through the maturity levels requires a structured approach:

1. Conduct a Baseline Assessment:

  • Evaluate the current state of your cybersecurity controls against the Essential 8 framework.
  • Identify gaps and areas for improvement.
  • Determine your organisation’s current maturity level.
Photo-realistic image of a person analysing data on a computer screen, highlighting cybersecurity gaps and areas for improvement with graphs and charts.

Conduct a baseline assessment to evaluate your cybersecurity controls, identify gaps, and determine your organisation’s current maturity level | Empire Technologies

2. Develop a Roadmap:

  • Create a detailed plan for implementing each of the Essential 8 strategies.
  • Set achievable milestones and timelines.
  • Allocate necessary resources, including budget and personnel.

3. Implement and Test Controls:

  • Start with high-priority areas and gradually expand implementation.
  • Test controls thoroughly to ensure they are effective.
  • Address any issues or gaps identified during testing.

4. Monitor and Review:

  • Continuously monitor the effectiveness of implemented controls.
  • Conduct regular reviews and audits to ensure compliance and identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Use feedback to refine and enhance your cybersecurity measures.

5. Foster a Cybersecurity Culture:

  • Educate and train employees on cybersecurity best practices.
  • Promote a culture of security awareness and vigilance.
  • Encourage reporting of suspicious activities and potential security incidents.

Building a Cyber Resilient Organisation

Adopting the Essential 8 framework is a critical step towards building a cyber resilient organisation. Here are additional recommendations to ensure a successful implementation:

Strategic Approach:

  • Threat Intelligence: Use threat intelligence to stay informed about emerging threats and adjust controls accordingly.
  • Policy Development: Develop comprehensive policies that outline the implementation and management of each Essential 8 strategy. Ensure these policies are aligned with industry standards and best practices.

Continuous Monitoring:

  • Security Operations Center (SOC): Establish a SOC to monitor and respond to cybersecurity incidents in real-time. This will help in early detection and mitigation of potential threats.
  • Regular Audits: Conduct regular security audits to ensure compliance with the Essential 8 framework. Use the findings to improve your security measures continuously.

Ongoing Education:

  • User Training: Regularly train employees on cybersecurity best practices, the importance of each Essential 8 strategy, and their role in maintaining security.
  • Awareness Campaigns: Run continuous awareness campaigns to keep cybersecurity top of mind for all staff members.
Photo-realistic image of employees in a training session, learning about cybersecurity best practices with a presenter and a screen displaying content.

Regularly train employees on cybersecurity best practices and run awareness campaigns to keep security top of mind for all staff members | Empire Technologies


The Essential 8 framework, with its recent updates, provides a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity that can help organisations defend against a wide range of threats. By adopting and continuously improving these strategies, organisations can enhance their security posture and resilience. The updated maturity model, with its emphasis on internet access for privileged accounts, credential management, and hardening of administrative infrastructure, ensures that organisations are better prepared to face evolving cyber threats.

For more detailed information and resources, organisations can visit the ACSC’s Essential Eight page​ (​​ (​​ (​. By staying informed and proactive, organisations can better protect their digital assets and ensure their long-term security and resilience.