The UK Cyber Essentials certification scheme provides a framework for businesses of all sizes to apply a range of essential cyber security best practices and to gain a valuable form of social proof that these practices have been verified. Alongside creating a cyber security foundation for your business and enhancing your competitive edge, applying the scheme’s key controls will also align your business with other regulations such as the GDPR’s (General Data Protection Regulation) data protection requirements.
In this third piece in our practical series on creating cyber defences for your business, we focus on the UK Cyber Essentials scheme, how it works, and the range of benefits it can offer to your business.
Cyber Essentials is a cybersecurity certification initiative that is backed by the UK government. It was created in 2014 to help organizations to mitigate common cyber threats by giving guidance on how to implement essential cyber security controls. These controls are designed to provide a solid foundation for cybersecurity, making them accessible and achievable for organisations of varying sizes and technical expertise.
Getting certified under the Cyber Essentials scheme offers a wealth of benefits to businesses, including:
Cyber Essentials provides a structured framework for implementing fundamental cybersecurity controls. By achieving certification, your business demonstrates its commitment to cybersecurity best practices. It forms a solid foundation for building a more resilient cybersecurity posture as your business grows and evolves.
This foundation will offer a robust set of protections against the common cyber threats that organisations face on a regular basis, such as malware infections, unauthorised access by malicious actors, and data breaches.
As cyber security is a growing concern for consumers and business partners alike, attaining Cyber Essentials certification gives stakeholders a verifiable signal that your organisation takes cyber security seriously, and that it has taken measures for protecting sensitive data and operating resiliently.
As commerce and criminality both continue to deepen into the digital world, certification also stands to strengthen your competitive edge. An increasing number of contracts and business opportunities, particularly in the public sector, require Cyber Essentials certification. There are additional benefits such as enhanced business continuity and resiliency, as well as greater trust through leveraging certification as a form of social proof more broadly.
By implementing the controls outlined in Cyber Essentials, you reduce the risk of cybersecurity incidents that could lead to financial losses, damage to your reputation, and legal consequences. It's a proactive measure that mitigates potential risks.
There are a range of insurance providers that can offer discounts or better terms for businesses that hold Cyber Essentials certification, as it will lower your business’s risk profile.
Even if you do not pursue certification, the Cyber Essentials framework offers valuable guidance and best practices for enhancing cybersecurity. It serves as a roadmap for deploying improvements throughout your business’s cyber security posture.
Implementing Cyber Essentials will also align your business more with data protection regulations, notably the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and the Data Protection Act (DPA). However, while applying the Cyber Essentials controls is essential for meeting these regulatory requirements, the key controls are often not enough on their own.
Cyber Essentials provides a framework for applying cyber security measures that can be scaled easily in your business, in a way that works for its tools, context and requirements. As it serves as a reliable foundation, it can be built upon to develop your cyber security measures further, without needing to rework your protective measures from the ground up.
In all, Cyber Essentials certification has the net effect of considerably lowering cyber risks, while boosting opportunities in a highly digitised commercial landscape. With the benefits outlined, we can turn towards how the Cyber Essentials certification process works.
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The certification process for Cyber Essentials entails applying and documenting cyber security best practices across your business. The controls, how they are applied and how they are assessed will depend on the certification level that is being sought, as well as the size and nature of your business. In any case, the process can be broken down into these key steps:
Cyber Essentials offers two levels of certification: Cyber Essentials and Cyber Essentials Plus.
Cyber Essentials: This is the baseline certification for the scheme and is undertaken via a self-assessment process, where you complete a questionnaire that covers the five core cyber security controls and evidencing that measures have been taken to apply them across your business.
Cyber Essentials Plus: A more advanced certification that is especially recommended for organisations that are larger or dealing with highly sensitive information. Plus includes the requirements of the baseline Cyber Essentials certification process but entails a more rigorous assessment that will include vulnerability scanning by a third party, and an on-site assessment.
Depending on the size, nature, requirements and context of your business, either of these two certifications may be more ideal. Once a certification is chosen, the measures for achieving their requirements will need to be applied.
If Cyber Essentials Plus is included, the five key controls have expanded requirements to gain certification. In our next piece we will dive into these in more detail and enter the practicalities of applying them. In a nutshell, the Cyber Essentials key controls are:
Secure Configuration: Ensuring that computers and network devices are configured securely with appropriate security settings, minimising any vulnerabilities that they can present.
Boundary Firewalls & Internet Gateways: Using firewalls and internet gateways (devices that regulate inbound and outbound traffic to your organisation’s network) to protect your network from unauthorized access and cyberattacks.
User Access Control: Entails creating permissioned accessed controls to prevent unauthorised parties from accessing your data and network, such as establishing user access permissions on a ‘need to know’ basis, password policies, and multi-factor authentication.
Malware Protection: Deploying and maintaining anti-virus solutions on all devices across your organization, preventing malware from compromising your networks and data.
Patch Management: Creating a robust process for applying security patches to software and devices in a timely way, ensuring that the latest security updates are being applied in your organization against emerging cyber threats.
Cyber Essentials Plus (Additional Requirements):
Devices and Applications Inventory: Maintain an up-to-date inventory of all devices and software being used in your organisation.
Secure Backups: Regularly back up important data and ensure backups are stored securely.
Network Segmentation: Implement network segmentation to contain the potential impacts of data breaches.
Incident Response Plan & Monitoring: Create an incident response plan for identifying and responding to cyber security incidents and implement network monitoring to identify and investigate suspicious activity.
Code Reviews: Finally, if your business develops software or applications, it will need to conduct code reviews to find and address any security vulnerabilities.
As your business applies the key controls across its digital premises, it will be increasingly ready for assessment ahead of getting certified. For Cyber Essentials, only a self-assessment is required, whereas for Cyber Essentials Plus, an independent assessment by a certified third party will need to be conducted.
The self-assessment involves completing and submitting a questionnaire that demonstrates the implementation of the five key cyber security controls under the scheme. Alongside questions that affirm the key controls have been implemented, evidence will also need to be submitted, which can consist of screen captures, documentation, or reports from security tools for example. In this way, the checklist of requirements for certification can be verified.
Alongside a self-assessment, for Cyber Essentials Plus, an external independent assessment will be needed. Here, an assessor will conduct an external vulnerability scan of your network to test it for vulnerabilities, conduct an on-site assessment, as well as sample devices and applications to verify that they apply the key controls.
Once you've completed the assessment process and demonstrated compliance with the key controls, you will receive your Cyber Essentials certification! This will need to be renewed yearly for your business to remain registered on the Cyber Essentials website.
Cyber Essentials continues to become a widely embraced cyber security certification for businesses and organisations across the UK. Bringing an accessible and effective approach to bolstering your cyber security defences, Cyber Essentials enables businesses to tap into more opportunities by demonstrating their commitment to cyber security, while minimizing the deep risks associated with cyber threats.
In our next piece, we will give a more practical guide to becoming certified under the Cyber Essentials scheme, helping your business to get started with creating a solid cyber security foundation in our digital world.
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