Essential Eight Scytale

Essential 8 Maturity Model: Achieving Cyber Security Excellence

Wesley Van Zyl

Senior Compliance Success Manager

Summary: The process of attaining Essential 8 (E8) compliance and what it could mean for your business.

The Essential 8 Maturity Model is quickly rising in rank and is known for helping businesses establish the baseline of cyber threat protection. But how exactly should organizations achieve Essential 8 compliance, and is it worth the fuss? 

Although we’d love to skip the nitty-gritty and invite you to bypass any ‘fuss’ and automate the entire Essential 8 journey, we also love to see businesses gain a firmer understanding of the cybersecurity world without heavy tech jargon guarding the compliance gates. So, suppose you’re interested in achieving cybersecurity excellence, in line with Essential 8. In that case, it’s time to dive into the process of attaining Essential 8 (E8) compliance and what it could mean for your business. 

A recap on the E8 essentials

The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) created the E8 Maturity Model to safeguard businesses, fortify defenses, and mitigate rising cyber security threats such as cyber intrusions, phishing attacks, ransomware, and malicious insider threats. 

The security controls responsible for implementing the above? Meet the eight security controls: application control, patch applications, restrict administrative privileges, patch operating systems, configure Microsoft Office macro settings, user application hardening, multi-factor authentication, and regular backups.

Understanding the Essential 8 Maturity Model

When starting with the implementation process of Essential 8, there are four defined maturity levels (Maturity Level 0 to Maturity Level 3). The relevant maturity level will help organizations determine their cybersecurity approach. The four maturity levels include: 

Maturity Level Zero

This maturity level signifies that there are weaknesses in an organization’s overall cyber security posture. When exploited, these weaknesses could facilitate the compromise of the confidentiality of their data, or the integrity or availability of their systems and data, as described by the tradecraft and targeting in Maturity Level One below.

Maturity Level One

The focus of this maturity level is adversaries who are content to simply leverage commodity tradecraft that is widely available in order to gain access to, and likely control of, systems. Generally, adversaries are looking for any victim rather than a specific victim and will opportunistically seek common weaknesses in many targets rather than investing heavily in gaining access to a specific target

Maturity Level Two

The focus of this maturity level is adversaries operating with a modest step-up in capability from the previous maturity level. These adversaries are willing to invest more time in a target and, perhaps more importantly, in the effectiveness of their tools. Generally, adversaries are likely to be more selective in their targeting but still somewhat conservative in the time, money and effort they may invest in a target.

Maturity Level Three

The focus of this maturity level is adversaries who are more adaptive and much less reliant on public tools and techniques. These adversaries are able to exploit the opportunities provided by weaknesses in their target’s cyber security posture. Generally, adversaries may be more focused on particular targets and, more importantly, are willing and able to invest some effort into circumventing the idiosyncrasies and particular policy and technical security controls implemented by their targets.

Implementing the Essential 8 Maturity Model

Step 1: Familiarize yourself with the Essential 8 strategies

The first step would be to familiarize yourself with the eight security strategies and how to implement them from a practical perspective. The details of each strategy will help you gain an overview of the framework, including its objectives and how they are met throughout the implementation process. For example, the first security strategy, application control, looks at an organization’s ability to maintain and manage control over applications to prevent unauthorized access from malicious actors or code. Therefore, implementing this strategy (depending on your maturity level) may require you to develop, maintain and continuously validate application control rules to ensure that only approved applications can execute. 

Starting the process with a high-level understanding of the eight strategies creates a solid baseline to jumpstart the journey. 

Step 2: Assess your security posture and identify your maturity level

Before setting sights on the following desired maturity level, it’s important to gauge where your business currently sits regarding its security posture. Therefore, the next step is to conduct a comprehensive self-assessment to gauge current cybersecurity practices and whether or not they align with Essential 8 standards. This process can be time-consuming and resource-intensive, so many businesses outsource this process to third parties (wink-wink) to help them identify gaps while evaluating existing controls, policies, and procedures in place. 

Step 3: Develop and execute an implementation plan

Based on your E8 internal audit results, you should be able to identify and prioritize the security strategies that are most critical for your organization’s unique needs and risks. Use this as the roadmap to outline the steps to implement each relevant strategy, including designated responsibilities, timelines, and resources required for execution. After that, relevant stakeholders and departments can start implementing the appropriate strategies, such as application whitelisting, patch management processes, and user privilege restrictions.

Step 4: Monitor and review strategies (consistently)

Managing and maintaining Essential 8 compliance hinges on your ability to consistently audit, monitor and review the effectiveness of your security controls. Unfortunately, compliance with the Essential 8 framework is not a one-off exercise but a continuous process. The last (but far from final) step is to establish mechanisms and tools that will enable you to track, assess and review your security controls, identify any gaps, conduct vulnerability scans, and flag any areas of non-compliance. 

Sounds great, but what does that even mean, and what would that ideally look like within your day-to-day life? 


How to assess your organization’s Essential 8 Maturity Level

All E8 controls and strategies require regular activity to ensure they stay compliant. After all, the last thing you’d want is to finally implement all eight strategies and then lose it all in a week or less. While ASD does not validate compliance directly, they provide resources, guidelines, and expertise on implementing and maintaining it. What’s the best way to go? Ensuring that you have maximum visibility of your E8 risk profile at all times. Achieving this hinges on your ability to monitor and review your security controls continuously. 

However, to put it quite frankly, if you’re set on manually assessing your Essential 8 Maturity level, you’re in for a labor-intensive and time-consuming process. Manual compliance is dragged out and requires dozens of manual checklists, workshops, and significant input from your internal team. 

These manual audit processes can take up months and, even then, rarely provide a remediation roadmap. So, what’s the solution? By now, we’re sure you know what we’re about to say – still, it never gets old. 

Automate Essential 8 with a partner in compliance

Ultimately, you’re left with two options: Option 1: Go manual and head on over to your internal teams and tell them to start prepping for a project that may span over multiple months. 

Option 2: Utilize Scytale’s automated software that allows you to carry out identifying gaps, creating a remediation plan, consistent monitoring and tracking your compliance statuses.

Tag our team into your corner and ensure Essential 8 compliance up to 90% faster so you can focus on scaling your business without increasing your risk exposure.