Every device, OS and application in your IT environment generates a record of activities in the form of log files. These audit trails of activity provide valuable information when investigating security breaches and when submitting regulation compliance reports.

The Cyber Risk Management project recently forecasted that a major cyberattack with demands for ransom from victims could cost $193 billion and affect more than 600,000 businesses worldwide. The organization studied a hypothetical attack launched through an e-mail infected with a ransomware virus forwarded to a person’s contacts. Within 24 hours, the virus encrypted data on 30 million devices worldwide. Companies of all sizes would be forced to pay a ransom to decrypt their data or to replace infected devices.

As this report illustrates, everyone is a target of cybercriminals in today’s evolving threat landscape—no business is too big or too small. An analysis of your firewall and IDS devices will likely show huge volumes of continuous attempts to penetrate your perimeter defenses. What’s more, given the sophistication of cybercriminal attacks, detecting breaches has become more difficult.

The situation calls for a well-designed log management solution. But just as importantly, the solution must be backed by best practices that help your IT team work more efficiently in weeding out the data that they don’t need to see—and give them the ability to focus more time on log events that represent potential threats.

Valuable Data, But Too Much to Handle Manually

Every device, OS and application in your IT environment generates a record of activities in the form of log files. These audit trails of activity provide valuable information when investigating security breaches and when submitting regulation compliance reports.

The key is to implement a log management tool and apply practices that enable you to analyze the overwhelming volume of log files that a typical IT infrastructure produces. It’s way too much to sort through manually.

Without an effective centralized method for collecting, formatting, and monitoring logs, your IT team is likely wasting time—chasing false positives and taking too long to mitigate security incidents that hamper business productivity. But when analyzed effectively in real-time, the logs provide warnings of emerging performance and availability issues as well as possible security threats. When reviewed on a historical basis, logs are essential to troubleshooting, forensic investigations, and for helping prove compliance with regulations.

Log Management Best Practices to Enhance Security and Assure Compliance

As you implement a new log management solution—or seek ways to enhance your existing solution—here are the high-level best practices to implement:

#1 Define Your Objectives—what security events do you want to detect? What regulatory compliance is required? What logs can be reviewed periodically and which logs require continuous monitoring in real-time? What volume of logs will be generated, stored and analyzed? The answers to these questions will provide high-level guidance as you roll out your new log management plan.

#2 Identify Logs to Collectbe sure to collect logs from critical security and data processing resources such as business applications and processes that involve sensitive data. Other logs to collect include systems and network devices that provide access to business applications, resources that have previously been compromised, Internet connections, and systems with external connections—such as gateways, firewalls, IDS, file transfer, and collaboration solutions.

#3 Format for Readability—make sure that logs are structured in a machine and human readable format like JSON or KVP. Your logs will be of little help if they can’t be understood. Paying attention to this detail upfront ensures that whatever log monitoring or analysis solutions you use will be able to extract the data your IT team needs.

#4 Centralize Management—centralizing your log collection, management, monitoring and analysis is a good idea from two perspectives. First, it’s much easier for the IT team to analyze logs and search for clues that help them detect, prevent and mitigate security threats. Second, regulation auditors may require a centralized approach to prove you are meeting their requirements of reasonable and appropriate measures to assure data security.

#5 Implement Automated Monitoring—some organizations merely collect log files so they can be reviewed in the event that they are notified of a potential breach. Others attempt to manually review logs on a periodic basis. Not reviewing logs at all wastes valuable information about the performance and security posture of your IT infrastructure. Manual reviews, on the other hand, consume an inordinate amount of time and are fraught with the potential to miss a large number of log events that may impact security and compliance. Set up automated monitoring so that you are always keeping an eye on logs, and create alerts to notify your IT team of events that require immediate attention.

For more detailed information on applying log management best practices, check out our white paper, Log Monitoring Best Practices for Security and Compliance.

What to Look for in a Log Management Solution

If you need a log management solution that provides real-time event monitoring and alerting to complement these best practices, look for one that delivers scalable and continuous log collection, fast search, and rule-based alerting along with analytics and reporting. The leading solutions will support thousands of network device types and log definitions for operating systems, firewalls and applications.

They also centralize log data collection, which streamlines log forensic analytics and gives you the ability to annotate and share incident response options across your entire IT team. Other key features to look for include pre-configured operations and security alerts along with the ability to define your own alerts and set up real-time notifications.

To help your business comply with regulations that pertain to logs, you will want a solution that provides continuous compliance monitoring, real-time threat detection, and the ability to conduct fast searches using common search queries. The leading log management solutions will also provide you with pre-defined compliance reports that can be tailored for specific regulatory requirements.

Take Action Before Damage Is Done

Regardless of the solution you choose and the practices you apply, log management should be an essential component of your security program. At a minimum, trusted individuals should periodically review logs for telltale signs of security events.

However, when data security is a key concern—as is the case for just about every business—logs from critical security and data processing resources should be continuously monitored and analyzed. This is especially true for business applications that handle sensitive data.

Ideally, you should utilize a centralized log management tool. Only real-time monitoring and analysis can provide the early warning of breaches in perimeter and core system defenses that you need in order to take action—before serious damage is done to your digital assets.