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Security Log Management for Small Businesses

written by: Robert Faustus•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 2/8/2011

Because of the proliferation of networked servers, workstations, and other computer devices, the threats to stored information have increased greatly. There is now, more than ever before, a crying need for computer security log management. Need to know more? Then read on!

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    Log Management

    Most business houses use several types of network-based security software to scan malicious activity and protect systems and data. Log files can broadly be classified into three different types – security software logs, operating system logs and application logs. Security software logs contain computer security-related information. Operating systems and security software provide protection for various applications, which are used to store, access, and update the data needed for the organization’s business processes.

    A log, simply defined, is a record of the events taking place within an organization’s systems and networks. Each log entry contains information about a specific event that has occurred within a system or network. Logs are helpful in optimizing system and network performance, and providing data useful for investigating malicious activity. Logs are created to contain information related to many different types of events happening within networks and systems. Logs are also helpful in maintaining accountability for users' actions, and in certain cases, can help a small business pinpoint a user, giving the business a bit of saving grace in an investigation.

    One mistake many companies make is just turning logging on, but not maintaining any kind of review process, or installing any kind of log monitoring tool. Log review is the key component in log management, or else the small business will be overwhelmed with space usage from 'toxic' logs.

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    What is Security Log Management and Why is it Needed?

    Logs generally contain information pertaining to security management and are generated through different sources including firewalls, anti-malware systems, routers, switches, applications and operating systems. It is rather unfortunate that many small businesses tend to ignore the logs till a security problem arises. Regular log reviews are helpful in identifying security incidents and detecting all lapses like policy violations, fraudulent activity, and operational problems soon after they have occurred.

    There is no denying the fact that today there is a widespread deployment of networked servers, workstations, and other computer devices. This has led to a commensurate increase in the number of threats to networks and systems, necessitating an effective computer security log management. The purpose of computer security log management is to generate, transmit, store, and analyze computer security log data. Security log management facilitates storage of computer security records in adequate detail for any prescribed period of time.

    One of the main reasons for enabling logs beyond compliance reasons is to maintain accountability. Logs and log monitoring tools enable the business to trace actions after they have occurred. Preventative controls such as authentication and encryption can always fail, and logs capture the actions and act as detective controls. This enables the business to pursue the actions of their users if there is a breach and pursue legal action if need be.

    Many would quickly assume that log management is a detective control, but that doesn't mean it can't be a proactive measure. Log review or monitoring of outliers in log output can help identify possible threats that recently occurred. It allows questions to be asked early on, in pursuit of suspicious activity.

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    Security Log Management Process

    The creation of a log management process must be preceded by a broad company policy that should clearly specify the objectives for managing log information and the necessary guidelines to ensure policy compliance. The policy should cover various aspects such as generation, information transmission, storage, analysis and disposal of logs.

    The large number of log information sources may inevitably produce inconsistent forms of content making the task difficult for analysts to arrange the data collected. Organizations may have to utilize automated methods to convert logs with different content and formats to a single standard format with consistent data. Organizations should therefore develop standard processes for performing log management. The logging requirements should be clearly defined when developing a policy for security log management. The organization’s management should also provide the necessary support for log management planning and procedures development.

    Needless to state, information security is critically important for the smooth functioning of an organization’s business operations and must be managed as a proactive and strategic business process on an on-going basis. However, one of the challenges to the management of computer security logs is to accommodate the ever-swelling log information with the limited availability of organizational resources for data analysis.