Is UK’s Cyber Essentials Even Working? Here’s What You Need to Know

Cybersecurity studies show that it takes around six months for companies to notice a data breach.

Now that’s an alarmingly long time to detect and respond to a cybersecurity incident. 

By the time you spot the breach, you’d have lost thousands, if not millions, of your business-critical information — not to mention the financial damages your company will incur.

Plus, data security incidents can cause massive blows to the credibility and reputation of your business — which can be hard to recover from. 

To help mitigate the risks of such threats, the UK government recommends getting the cyber essentials accreditation as a basic level of protection against cyber attacks. 

The question is, how effective is the cyber essentials scheme in protecting your business from common cyber threats?

That’s what we’re here to find out.  

Understanding Cyber Essentials

Although applying high tech security technology for SMBs or Small to Medium Businesses is crucial, establishing baseline protection measures is also vital to data privacy and protection.

With the cyber essentials framework, you’ll need to set key technical controls in place to protect your company against the most common cyber threats. 

To get cyber essentials certified, you’ll need to maintain the five technical controls to a good standard and ensure your business implements basic levels of protection against cyber attacks. 

Getting certified is a great way to show your customers your commitment to data protection and establishing cybersecurity practices — which helps foster their trust with you.

Complying with the cyber essentials requirements can also be your first step towards adhering to regulations such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). 

Cyber essentials accreditation increases your chances of bidding for government contracts since it is a requirement for some of their projects. 

Additionally, you’ll get opportunities to lower your insurance premiums since there are providers that offer cheaper policies for companies that are cyber essentials certified — potentially saving you some money. 

Remember that the aim of the cyber essentials scheme isn’t to ward off every cyber threat, but to help you establish basic technical controls to build your cybersecurity measures on.  

The threats your business is facing

The growing number of cyber-attacks is one of the main reasons why the cybersecurity startup scene is accelerating along with the more established online security providers. 

However, cybercriminals are still devising new ways to breach your systems and steal your sensitive data — which is why having basic security controls is necessary for baseline protection. 

Plus, threats can come from both internal and external sources. 

By having the five cyber essentials technical controls in place (which we will discuss in-depth later), you can cover your (basic) cybersecurity bases and protect from common cyber-attacks. 

Internal threats can result from human error and the poor security practices of your employees that lead to vulnerabilities in your system. 

External threats like cybercriminals aiming to steal your data will also use several ways to take your data, such as delivering malware to your systems to gain unauthorized access. 

Understanding the cyber threats your business could be facing is essential to help you establish the right security controls properly, bolster your protection measures, and mitigate risks. 

Narrowing the gap of basic cybersecurity 

As mentioned earlier, the cyber essentials scheme highlights five technical controls that you need to implement correctly to get certified and reduce the risks of avoidable security threats to your company. 

You can think of these technical controls as a security checklist that you should go through before you can securely store and process customer data. 

The cyber essentials checklist includes user access controls, firewalls and internet gateways, malware protection, patch management, and secure configurations.

Restricting or assigning access controls to your employees can reduce the potential damages to your user accounts in case they get stolen or misused.

Limit access, provide special authorization to your accounts or data, and only grant extra permissions as necessary. 

You’ll also need to protect yourself from malicious software and viruses by exercising proper security practices like educating your employees not to open links from unknown senders. 

Aside from cybersecurity awareness training for your employees, you can also use anti-malware software. 

For example, implementing malware protection measures like whitelisting will help prevent unauthorized installation and running of apps that might contain malware.  

When you set these security controls in place, you can protect against common cyber threats — reducing the risks of cybercriminals exposing your business-critical data. 

Maintaining good cybersecurity hygiene

Implementing the security controls outlined in the cyber essentials framework is always a great preventive measure because they help you maintain good cybersecurity hygiene. 

For example, you can use the cyber essentials checklist as a basis for expanding your cybersecurity measures like establishing best practices for secure web app development

Before getting certified, you’ll need to follow specific steps to comply with the cyber essentials requirements. 

There are two levels of certification you can apply for, the standard cyber essentials and the Cyber Essentials Plus.

The standard cyber essentials certification requires compliance to three main elements: a self-assessment questionnaire about the five security controls, an external vulnerability scan, and a shared service assessment.   

Applying for the cyber essentials plus certification calls for compliance with the same three requirements. 

However, it includes two additional steps — an internal vulnerability scan and a device or workstation assessment. 

The price for the two levels of accreditation can also differ depending on the scope covered with the cyber essentials plus certification since your certifying body will do most of the work.

Going through the certification process can also give you insights into your current cybersecurity health. 

Plus, you’ll get recommendations on how you can fix your vulnerabilities and strengthen your security measures. 

Will cyber essentials work for you?

Complying with the cyber essentials standards is a great way to maintain good cybersecurity hygiene and set baseline protection measures against the most common cyber threats. 

Not only that but getting accredited displays your dedication to protecting your customers’ data and keeping your business-critical information secure from potential cyber-attacks. 

As to how effective getting certified is, well think of it this way.

The more you implement the right security controls to protect against basic cyber threats, the better equipped you’ll be to respond to incidents correctly and efficiently.