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Essential eight maturity model explained in detail

In the ever-evolving landscape of cybersecurity, organisations face a multitude of threats that can disrupt their operations and compromise their data. To counter these threats, the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) has developed a comprehensive set of strategies known as the Essential Eight Maturity Model. These strategies empower organisations to bolster their cybersecurity defences and ensure resilience against a wide range of cyber threats.

The foundation of cyber resilience using Essential Eight

At the core of this framework are the Essential Eight strategies. These strategies have been meticulously designed to protect organisations’ internet-connected information technology networks. While they can potentially be applied to cloud services, enterprise mobility, and operational technology networks, it’s essential to acknowledge that the Essential Eight was primarily tailored for traditional IT networks. In cases where unique cyber threats confront these diverse environments, organisations should consider alternative guidance provided by ASD.

Understanding the Essential Eight Maturity Model

The Essential Eight Maturity Model, first introduced in June 2017 and regularly updated, is the linchpin for implementing the Essential Eight strategies effectively. This model is born from ASD’s wealth of experience in various cybersecurity domains, including cyber threat intelligence, incident response, penetration testing, and assisting organisations in adopting the Essential Eight framework.

Essential eight explained

Implementing the Essential Eight is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Organisations must identify a target maturity level that suits their specific environment. The implementation process should be progressive, with each maturity level building upon the previous one. This sequential approach ensures a robust foundation before advancing to higher levels.

Risk-based implementation

The deployment of the Essential Eight should follow a risk-based approach. This entails minimising exceptions and their scope, which can be achieved through the implementation of compensating controls. Any exceptions must be documented and approved through a formal process. Continual monitoring and review of these exceptions are vital, with the aim of aligning with the requirements of the chosen maturity level.

Beyond the Essentials

While the Essential Eight provides a minimum set of preventative measures, it may not address all possible cyber threats. Organisations should be prepared to implement additional mitigation strategies and controls tailored to their unique circumstances. The Strategies to Mitigate Cyber Security Incidents and the Information Security Manual offer valuable guidance for enhancing cybersecurity further.

Certification Considerations

Organisations are not mandated to seek certification of their Essential Eight implementation by an independent party. However, certain circumstances, such as government directives, regulatory requirements, or contractual obligations, may necessitate independent assessment by a third party.

Four Tiers of Cyber Resilience

The Essential Eight Maturity Model categorises cybersecurity into four distinct tiers, each offering an increased level of protection:

Maturity Level Zero

Maturity Level Zero signifies vulnerabilities in an organisation’s overall cybersecurity posture. Exploiting these weaknesses can potentially compromise data confidentiality, system integrity, and data availability.

Maturity Level One

At this level, organisations primarily contend with malicious actors who employ readily available tradecraft to gain unauthorised access to systems. These actors are typically not highly selective in their targeting and may resort to common social engineering techniques.

Maturity Level Two

Moving up the maturity ladder, organisations face malicious actors operating with a moderate increase in capability. These actors invest more time and effort in their attacks and are likely to employ well-known tradecraft to bypass security controls. They also target credentials using phishing techniques and may seek to exploit weak multi-factor authentication.

Maturity Level Three

The highest tier addresses malicious actors who are highly adaptive, less reliant on publicly available tools and techniques, and adept at exploiting vulnerabilities in a target’s cybersecurity posture. These actors are highly focused on specific targets and are willing to invest considerable effort to compromise their targets. This level requires organisations to be prepared for advanced threats, including targeted social engineering, exploitation of system vulnerabilities, and evading detection.

Essential eight assessment

The Essential Eight Maturity Model is a dynamic and adaptable framework that enables organisations to enhance their cybersecurity posture and achieve resilience against a broad spectrum of cyber threats. By strategically implementing these measures, organisations can effectively counter the ever-evolving threat landscape and safeguard their data, systems, and operations. In this digital age, proactive cybersecurity measures are not just a choice; they are a necessity for organisations aiming to thrive and succeed. 

It is for this reason that conducting an Essential Eight assessment is a pivotal step for organisations aiming to fortify their cybersecurity defences. This assessment evaluates your current cybersecurity measures, identifies areas in need of improvement, and helps you establish a solid foundation of protection against common cyber threats. To discover how an Essential Eight assessment can benefit your organisation and receive tailored insights into bolstering your cybersecurity posture, take the first step by reaching out to our experts on our Essential Eight page. Don’t leave your organisation’s security to chance; secure your digital assets and operations with the Essential Eight.