Nearly half (48%) of Australian companies surveyed by Telstra reported having experienced a cyberattack within the past 12 months. This reflects a rise in cyberattacks of 33% over the previous year.

Attacks can range from virus infections to ransomware attacks that lock organizations out of their data and force them to pay a ransom if they dont have a reliable backup strategy in place. But no matter what form the threats take, if your business becomes a victim, there are costly consequences.

With an understanding of the growing threats that companies face and the challenges of blocking data breaches on multiple fronts, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) has published a prioritized list of eight essential data security strategies to help businesses protect their systems against attacks.

These strategies are dubbed The Essential Eight.

Why It’s Important to Know About the Essential Eight

There are multiple data security protection products out there to choose from, including anti-malware software, firewalls, and credential management applications. Each one is designed to cover a different potential breach area of your technology infrastructure.

But with so many options, it’s not always easy to know if you’ve got the basic best practices of cybersecurity covered. That’s where the Essential Eight come in. They help organizations know the top eight best practices of a cybersecurity plan so they can ensure the current strategies they’re using are giving them the basics of good cybersecurity hygiene.

Million Dollar Question (perhaps literally)

If you’re using an outsourced managed IT services provider, do you know whether you’re covered for these eight best practices?

It’s important to ask your current IT support provider how many of the Essential Eight they are absolutely sure you are compliant with. Perhaps consider even paying them to prove that to you.

If you score is less than 7 out of 8, you need to seriously question whether you're partnering with the right provider.

These are the Essential Eight IT Security Practices

Each of the Essential Eight fall under one of three main overall mitigation categories:

  1. Preventing Malware Delivery and Execution
  2. Limiting the Extent of Cyber Security Incidents
  3. Data Recovery and System Availability

Here are the eight essential strategies that your organisation should be employing in your overall cybersecurity strategy.

1. Application Whitelisting

One of the best defences against what’s known as “Zero-Day” threats (new malware that hasn’t been seen before) is application whitelisting. This is known as taking a zero-trust stance, meaning that your system trusts no programs executing code unless they’ve been previously whitelisted as “okay.”

Many firewalls and anti-malware applications with advanced threat protection offer the ability to whitelist applications, which keeps unapproved ones (i.e. .exe, DLL, PowerShell, etc.) from executing a malicious script.

2. Patch Applications

Keeping applications like Microsoft Office and web browsers updated and patched with the latest security updates within 48 hours is important to mitigating threats. Hackers often quickly exploit found vulnerabilities in all types of applications (including WordPress plugins), so it’s important to have a good patch management program in place.

3. Configure Microsoft Office Macro Settings

48% of phishing emails with malicious attachments use a Microsoft Office filetype. While users often know to stay away from attachments that use .exe or .zip, a .doc file looks more innocent. But if you have the wrong Office macro settings, these innocent-looking Word or Excel files can execute dangerous code.

You want to block macros from the internet from running in your Office programs and only allow macros limited access from “trusted locations” or that are digitally signed with a trusted certificate.

4. User Application Hardening

Certain applications, such as Flash, Java, and browser-based ads can run malicious scripts when you access them from a web browser. You want to set your web browsers to block these from running automatically.

5. Restrict Administrative Privileges

Do you run your computer while logged in as a local administrator? Many people do, but this is a mistake, because if a hacker gains access to your computer while you’re logged in as administrator, they can make all types of dangerous changes to the system files.

By restricting access, you mitigate this risk. You can do this by:

  • Creating different user accounts with less privileges to use, especially for email and web browsing
  • Regularly validating the need for privileges
  • Restricting the number of administrative accounts in your office

6.Patch Operating Systems

Just like patching applications is important, it’s also equally as important to keep your operating system patched and updated within 48 hours of a new update release to mitigate the risk of a security vulnerability being exploited by a hacker.

7. Multi-Factor Authentication

Passwords that are stolen or weak and easily hacked are a major cause of data breaches. One of the best ways to increase your credential security is to use multi-factor authentication (MFA) which requires another step before login can be completed (usually entry of a PIN that’s sent via SMS).

Use MFA everywhere you can for programs and website logins, including for remote access through use of protocols like VPN and remote desktop access (RDP).

8. Daily Backups

One of the best ways to thwart a ransomware attack is by having a reliable backup that can easily be restored. Malware often causes data loss, which can be very costly. It’s best practice to keep all your systems and data backed up regularly, including software and configuration settings, and retained for at least 3 months.

You should also regularly check the restore capabilities of your backups.

Get Help to Ensure Essential Eight Compliance

If you’re unsure whether your current cybersecurity strategy has you covered when it comes to the Essential Eight, NetCare can help. Our IT security experts can review your current strategies and help you address any vulnerabilities.

Set up your consultation today and take a step towards cybersecurity success. Call (02) 9114 9920 or reach out online.