What are Cyber Essentials? Requirements, Preparation Process & Certification

May 7, 2024

Great, so we know you’re no stranger to the compliance neighbourhood. In fact, you may have heard of frameworks such as SOC 2, ISO 27001 or even the odd regulatory legislation like HIPAA or GDPR. However, for many smaller businesses or startups, bigger (more complex frameworks) seem just a tad out of reach. Perhaps once you scale, but for now you only need the essentials.

Fortunately, you’re not alone. That’s exactly what we’re talking about: The Cyber Essentials Certification. Tailor-made for those businesses that (at the very least) want a baseline security posture that covers the essentials, and this UK-specific framework is designed to be accessible and practical for smaller companies.

At first glance, Cyber Essentials may sound like an absolute must-have for your business. But let’s be honest: anything with the word ‘essentials’ in it is bound to grab our attention.

However, understanding yet another cybersecurity certification may be daunting and time-consuming. Moreover, you wouldn’t want to invest in anything that isn’t relevant to your specific business goals, priorities and threat landscape of course.

That’s why we’ve consolidated everything you need to know about Cyber Essentials and whether or not this may be a tailor-made fit for your company.

Who Should Get Cyber Essentials Certified

Before diving head-first into the article, you’re probably wondering, ‘does this even apply?’ So, straight out the gate, you must hold an up-to-date Cyber Essentials certificate if you’re a supplier planning on bidding for UK government contracts involving handling certain sensitive and personal information. However, even if you are not planning on working as a government supplier, the Cyber Essentials certification, although not mandatory, aims to provide businesses with a baseline of cybersecurity controls – which is always a good idea. 

Understanding Cyber Essentials

Cyber Essentials stands out among security certifications as a UK government-backed, industry-supported scheme developed by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). Its unique focus is on helping organizations protect themselves against the most common basic online threats—up to 80% of the most basic cyber security breaches, to be exact. This comprehensive approach establishes a baseline that covers the fundamental cyber security essentials, making it the UK Government’s affordable solution for creating a safer online space for organizations. 

In short, it helps businesses that have little to no security controls tighten the reins to mitigate immediate threats and strengthen their security posture. A warm and welcome introduction to the world of cyber security. 

From a high-level perspective, Cyber Essentials helps organizations implement five core information security controls, namely: 

  • Firewall & Internet Gateway
  • Secure Configuration
  • Patching & Updates
  • Access Control
  • Malware Protection

Through the Cyber Essentials guidelines and assessments, organizations can follow a structured approach to implementing cybersecurity best practices, which helps fortify their security posture and enhances trust and credibility in a competitive market.

To summarize, here are the most important features of Cyber Essentials at a glance. 

  • What is the assessment type? 

Businesses are expected to complete a self-assessment questionnaire with all the relevant evidence attached. 

  • What are your systems being assessed for?

Businesses are being assessed on the five key Cyber Essentials requirements as mentioned above (Firewalls, Secure settings, Access to data and services, Antivirus and anti-malware and device and software updates). 

  • What are the expected outcomes?

For your team to gain a better understanding of basic cyber security threats while improving your own systems and protocols.

Cyber Essentials vs Cyber Essentials Plus

Before getting Cyber Essentials certified, it’s essential to fully understand the distinction between Cyber Essentials and Cyber Essentials Plus. 

The Cyber Essentials certification refers to a series of self-assessments. Organizations engage in these self-assessment exercises that cover the fundamentals of cybersecurity. This is an excellent baseline and starting point for organizations that are still relatively new to implementing security controls and offers a strong foundation for implementing additional security measures. 

Cyber Essentials Plus offers a more comprehensive evaluation of your security posture. This certification includes on-site audits by external parties and provides an in-depth assessment of your controls. It goes beyond the entry-level Cyber Essentials certification, focusing on fundamental security controls and principles. ‘Plus’ is a more rigorous evaluation, which includes hands-on technical testing, providing a higher level of assurance for your organization’s security.

For this blog, we’re focusing on Cyber Essentials and the importance of getting certified (and how to do it). 

The Importance of Cyber Essentials

In today’s digital landscape, no business can afford to be complacent about protecting themselves (and their clients) against cyber security threats. However, implementing cyber security can often feel overwhelming (and expensive). This is where the beauty of Cyber Essentials comes in: providing a simplified approach to the complex compliance landscape, ensuring that all businesses, regardless of size or industry, have a baseline of security controls (at the very least). Some of the most important reasons businesses get Cyber Essentials certified includes: 

  • To protect themselves against common cyber threats
  • To demonstrate their commitment to cybersecurity
  • To comply with relevant regulations
  • To implement a solid foundation for businesses to build upon
  • To be better equipped to handle the ever-evolving cyber threat landscape

However, even the most straightforward certification doesn’t just happen overnight. Especially not without dedicated compliance experts to tag along on your journey. But before we look into the how, let’s keep looking at why businesses are drawn to Cyber Essentials. 

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Benefits of Cyber Essentials Certification

With news about data breaches and cybersecurity attacks reaching headlines all the more often, convincing yourself that your business is ‘too small to be a target’ or that you’re successfully operating ‘under the radar’ cannot be your go-to security strategy. But, for many businesses, the time and effort required to obtain a security certificate simply isn’t worth what’s perceived as a ‘hypothetical risk.’ Which is why it’s important that we not only stress the importance of a secure IT infrastructure from a regulatory perspective, but from a competitive advantage too. Here are some of the core benefits. 

  • To provide customers with reassurance (and proof) that you are actively securing your IT against cyber threats. 
  • To acquire more prominent clients that require evidence of a secure IT landscape and security posture.
  • To enter the UK governmental business sector that requires Cyber Essentials certifications in their contracts. 
  • Potential cost savings. Cyber Essentials can lower insurance premiums, reduce the costs of recovering from a cyber attack, and improve operational efficiency.

Ultimately, in a competitive landscape a strong(er) security posture is a surefire way to help businesses attract new customers and retain existing ones. 

The Requirements of Cyber Essentials

As you familiarize yourself with the purpose and importance of a Cyber Essentials certification, we need to consider its actual requirements and what organizations need to know (and do) to pass the self-assessments. Let’s take a look.

As briefly mentioned, five distinct requirements are clearly defined in the NCSC Cyber Essentials Requirements for IT Infrastructure. What’s interesting to note here is that the requirements for Cyber Essentials and Cyber Essentials Plus are precisely the same. The only core difference and distinction is in the technical review of ‘Plus.’ These five requirements include the following: 

Requirement 1: Firewalls

When it comes to establishing a secure IT network, firewalls are absolutely non-negotiable. Hence, the first requirement. Organizations must ensure that every internet-connected device has firewall protection. This also includes continuously maintaining said firewalls, configuring them to permit necessary traffic only, and regularly updating your firewalls. Ultimately, this should protect your internal network from unauthorized access and potential attacks from the internet.

Requirement 2: Secure Configuration

This requirement concerns all devices and software used within your business. To remain secure, they need to be regularly configured. This means including (and frequently updating) strong passwords, turning off all unnecessary features, and keeping software updated with the latest security patches. 

Requirement 3: User Access Control

As your business scales, tracking who has access to which systems and information becomes increasingly difficult. Therefore, strict user access controls are essential. These controls focus on managing user access to your systems and data and include implementing strong authentication measures, such as regularly reviewing and eliminating unnecessary user accounts and implementing multi-factor authentication whenever feasible.

Requirement 4: Malware Protection

Malware, such as viruses, ransomware, and spyware, is everywhere, and picking it up is almost inevitable without essential cybersecurity. This control requires organizations to use up-to-date antivirus software, regularly scan for malware, and educate employees about the risks of clicking on suspicious links or downloading files from unknown sources.

Requirement 5: Security Update Management

We’ve said it before, and we’ll repeat it – getting compliant is one thing, but staying compliant is another story. The same goes for maintaining a solid security posture. Vulnerabilities easily slip through the cracks when organizations don’t update and refine their security measures. Therefore, it’s essential to stay aligned with changing regulations and business objectives and maintain all hardware and software with regular updates.


How to Get Cyber Essentials Certification

When it comes to cybersecurity certifications, things can often seem more complex than they actually are. However, Cyber Essentials is an exception to this rule; it is designed to be straightforward and user-friendly, providing a sense of reassurance in the face of potential complexity. 

Still, for organizations looking to get certified, there are a few essential things to keep in mind. For starters, you will need to assess your current security posture and identify any gaps, vulnerabilities, or areas of improvement that need to be addressed. Based on the requirements, this may include configuring your firewalls, updating your security patches, or implementing better access control measures.

Once you feel confident that you meet the relevant controls, you can proceed to submit your application for Cyber Essentials Certification. This involves first purchasing the Cyber Essentials Minimum standard scheme starting at £300 + VAT, though prices may vary. After that, you’ll need to complete a self-assessment questionnaire and provide evidence to support your claims. Once your self-assessment questionnaire submission is approved, the awarding body, IASME Consortium, will issue your certificate. 

How Scytale Helps Organizations Get Cyber Essentials Certified

Establishing (and maintaining) a security standard can be quite a resource-intensive and time-consuming task for startups, especially when considering that they don’t have a designated IT security team to ensure that all the minimum requirements are met. Fortunately, industry-leading security experts at Scytale are ready to help you start your journey towards effortless information security. 

That means we can help you improve your security and implement industry-specific security controls and comply with the UK government’s enhanced cybersecurity framework that assures you meet the core cybersecurity requirements.

We can also help you establish the springboard and baseline that Cyber Essentials was created for while pivoting your security measures to new heights as you scale, like working towards ISO 27001 or SOC 2.

Are you ready to supercharge your cybersecurity? With the Cyber Essentials scheme, your business can achieve a sound cybersecurity structure and finally put those imminent threats and fears of security vulnerabilities at by. 

Here’s how we help you get Cyber Essentials certified.