In today's world, where cyber threats are increasingly sophisticated, organizations must take strong security measures to protect sensitive data and maintain operational integrity. One effective way to show your dedication to cybersecurity is by obtaining Cyber Essentials certification. This government-backed scheme in the UK helps organizations implement essential security controls to defend against common online threats.

This blog post explains the framework and outlines the necessary steps to prepare for a Cyber Essentials assessment. Whether you're a small business owner or an IT professional, following these steps will help you confidently navigate the certification process and ensure that your organization meets the required standards to fend off cyber threats.

Explore how UpGuard can help your organization achieve cyber essentials certification >

What are the Cyber Essentials?

Cyber Essentials is a UK government-backed scheme to help organizations protect themselves against common online threats. This framework provides a set of five basic cybersecurity controls that organizations can implement to mitigate the risk of cyber attacks, which include:

  1. Firewalls and internet gateways
  2. Secure configuration
  3. Access control
  4. Malware protection
  5. Patch management

Implementing the five key controls outlined in the Cyber Essentials framework can significantly reduce organizations' risk of falling victim to common cyber threats. The Cyber Essentials certification process verifies that these controls are in place, assuring customers, partners, and stakeholders that the organization takes cybersecurity seriously.

Firewalls and internet gateways

Firewalls and internet gateways maintain a secure internet connection and create a barrier between the internal network and external networks. Organizations are required to ensure firewalls protect devices connecting to the internet. Configure firewalls to block unauthorized access and restrict network traffic to and from the internet.

Secure configuration

Secure configuration means configuring devices and software securely to reduce vulnerabilities. Applying secure settings and configurations on devices and software minimizes potential attack surfaces, and organizations must remove or deactivate unnecessary accounts, services, and functionalities. To ensure consistency, organizations should also implement baseline configurations for all devices.

Access control

Access control ensures that only authorized users have access to systems and data. Organizations must implement user access controls to restrict access based on roles and responsibilities and utilize strong passwords (using multi-factor authentication when possible). They must also regularly review and update user access rights to ensure they are appropriate.

Malware protection

Malware protection protects systems from malicious software. Organizations must install and regularly update anti-malware software on all devices, using only trusted software sources (avoiding downloading software from unverified sources). Additionally, organizations should implement measures to prevent malicious code from being executed, such as disabling macros in documents from unknown sources.

Patch management

Patch management ensures devices and software are up to date with the latest security patches. Organizations should regularly apply software updates and security patches to operating systems, applications, and firmware. Automated tools can manage and deploy patches where possible. Organizations should prioritize and apply critical and high-risk patches to minimize vulnerabilities as soon as possible.

6 Steps to Prepare for a Cyber Essentials Assessment

The Cyber Essentials Assessment is a critical step towards achieving Cyber Essentials Certification. This assessment demonstrates how your organization meets the five key controls outlined in the framework, providing evidence of implemented controls. Below are six key steps to help your organization prepare effectively.

Step 1: Understand the requirements

The first step in preparing for a Cyber Essentials assessment is to understand the requirements of the Cyber Essentials scheme thoroughly. This step involves familiarizing yourself with the five key technical controls outlined in the framework: firewalls, secure configuration, access control, malware protection, and patch management.

Review detailed documentation and guidelines provided by the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) or the certifying body. Understanding these requirements helps ensure that your organization knows what is expected and can plan accordingly to meet these standards. Additionally, clarifying the differences between Cyber Essentials and Cyber Essentials Plus certification can help decide the level your organization should aim for.

Step 2: Conduct a gap analysis

Once you understand the requirements, the next step is conducting a gap analysis to assess your security posture against the Cyber Essentials controls. This process involves thoroughly reviewing your existing security measures, identifying areas where you are already compliant, and pinpointing gaps where improvements are needed.

This analysis should cover all relevant aspects of your IT infrastructure, including firewall configurations, device and software settings, user access controls, malware protection measures, and patch management practices. Documenting these findings will help create a focused action plan to address the identified gaps and implement all necessary cybersecurity measures effectively.

Step 3: Implement required controls

Based on the gap analysis results, the required security controls must be implemented to meet the Cyber Essentials requirements.

For firewalls, ensure that a properly configured firewall protects all devices to prevent unauthorized access. Secure configuration involves turning off unnecessary services and accounts and applying secure settings on devices and software. Implement strong access control measures by assigning appropriate user account permissions and using multi-factor authentication where possible. Deploy robust anti-malware solutions and ensure they are regularly updated. Establish a patch management process to keep all systems and applications up to date with the latest security patches.

This step requires collaboration across IT, security, and relevant business units to ensure comprehensive coverage and protection against common cyber attacks.

Step 4: Document policies and procedures

After implementing the necessary controls, it is crucial to document all related policies and procedures. This documentation should outline how each control is applied and maintained, including detailed configurations, access control policies, malware protection protocols, and patch management schedules.

Clear and comprehensive documentation serves multiple purposes: it provides a reference for ongoing maintenance, ensures consistency in applying security measures, and demonstrates compliance during the pre-assessment process. Make sure to regularly review these documents and update them according to any changes in the cybersecurity landscape or organizational practices.

Step 5: Conduct employee training and awareness

To ensure the effectiveness of the implemented controls, conduct thorough training and awareness programs for all employees. Educate staff on cybersecurity best practices, the importance of the Cyber Essentials controls, and their role in maintaining a secure environment.

This step includes training on identifying and reporting phishing attempts, safe internet browsing habits, and using secure passwords. Regular awareness campaigns can help reinforce the training, ensuring that information security remains a priority across the organization. Engaging employees in security practices fosters a security culture and helps minimize human-related vulnerabilities.

Step 6: Complete the self-assessment questionnaire

The final step is to complete the Cyber Essentials self-assessment questionnaire. This questionnaire requires detailed information about how your organization meets the five key controls.

Ensure that all responses are accurate and supported by evidence, such as configuration settings, policy documents, and logs of security updates. A senior executive or IT manager should review and approve the questionnaire to ensure its accuracy and completeness. Once completed, submit the questionnaire to an accredited certification body for review. For Cyber Essentials Plus, prepare for an additional assessment where an independent assessor will conduct technical verification of the controls.

Benefits of Cyber Essentials Certification

The National Cyber Security Centre and IASME Consortium manage and provide the Cyber Essentials certification process. This certification is a straightforward and cost-effective way to enhance your organization's cybersecurity posture and data security, protect against common threats, and demonstrate your commitment to maintaining a secure environment for your clients and partners.

Additional benefits of Cyber Essentials Certification include:

  • Protection against common threats
  • Increased business reputation
  • Competitive advantage
  • Compliance and regulatory requirements
  • Reduced risk of cyber incidents
  • Improved cybersecurity awareness
  • Enhanced incident response
  • Foundation for Advanced Security Measures

Get your organization ready for Cyber Essentials Certification with UpGuard

If your organization is preparing for the Cyber Essentials Certification process, cybersecurity software can help automate time-consuming processes and provide full visibility into the effectiveness of your security controls. UpGuard’s comprehensive cybersecurity management tools make monitoring your cybersecurity posture and vendors simple—all in one centralized dashboard.

UpGuard BreachSight illuminates your organization’s external attack surface, allowing you to discover and remediate risks ten times faster with continuous monitoring capabilities. Additional features include:

  • Real-time scanning: Don’t accept an incomplete or lagging picture of your attack surface. Protect your domains, IP, and external assets with real-time scans.
  • Instant alerts: Be alerted the moment a vulnerability is detected. Receive notifications where your team works, whether Jira, Service Now, or another platform like Slack.
  • Detect stolen credentials: Know when your data or credentials are circulating online or at risk of unauthorized access. UpGuard combines proprietary sources and dark web scanning to spot leaked data faster.

UpGuard Vendor Risk provides complete visibility of your third-party risk, helping you identify vendor risks sooner and complete risk assessments twice as fast. Additional Vendor Risk features include:

  • Constant vendor monitoring: Get alerted whenever the security posture of a third or fourth party changes. Continuous monitoring ensures you’re always the first to know.
  • 360° risk assessments: See your vendor risks from all angles. Automated scanning, evidence analysis, and insights from industry questionnaires (NIST, GDPR, ISO 27001) give you the complete picture of your service providers.
  • End-to-end workflows: Forget spreadsheets and stale data. Transform your processes with a single platform for identifying and managing risk mitigation.

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