In many ways, system logging is similar to buying insurance. You know you need it but hope you never have to use it. Let’s face it, system logs are pretty boring and aren’t the kind of thing that gets system administrators and other IT professionals jumping out of bed each morning in eager anticipation.
Often, it’s only when something goes wrong that administrators will feel compelled to go through the log files and see if they can make out what the issue could be. This is the classic use of log files yet it represents missed opportunity. Your system logs don’t have to be afterthoughts. With the right log management solution and procedure, they can be so much more.
Here’s a look at why log monitoring can be so beneficial.
1. Act Before Users Notice a Problem or Contact Support
The traditional approach to system logging is inherently reactive. Administrators will only rush to study the log files when users report an error. Log monitoring on the other hand adopts a more proactive strategy.
To put this in context, think about a web server log file. Ordinarily, it would contain numerous 200s (successful requests), several 300s (redirections) and the occasional 400s (client errors). 500s (i.e. server errors) aren’t that common. You may assume that users will file an error report when they run into a 500 but the reality is most will simply move on to another website.
Ergo, your website could be bogged down by 500 codes for days before anyone tells you there’s something wrong. If you have already implemented log monitoring, you won’t need to wait for users to inform you. You can resolve the problem well before it spirals out of control and damages your website’s reputation.
2. Pick Up Suspicious Activity
Making sure your application is working as well as it should be is important but it’s certainly not the only reason why you should have log monitoring. There are other threats to watch out for. If your server or application is internet-facing, it won’t be long before some individual or malware attempts to infiltrate, compromise or cripple it.
Log monitoring can help you prevent or stop these attacks. For example, if your webserver sees a sudden jump in 401 and 403 responses implying a rise in unauthorized and forbidden activity, you could be under a brute force attack. You can take preventative action before the attacker succeeds or inflicts substantial damage.
3. Regulatory Compliance
Log monitoring is certainly best practice. In certain industries though, it’s a regulatory requirement too. Examples include financial services, healthcare and manufacturing.
For example, healthcare providers are subject to HIPAA requirements in the management of patient information. To comply, extensive logging and log monitoring is necessary to identify unusual activity and data security discrepancies. Failure to adhere to HIPAA can lead to severe consequences for the organization.
4. Defining Baseline Performance
Applications are programmed to act on system triggers, adhere to specific turnarounds and respond to user actions. This leads to a fairly regular and predictable pattern in log files. In fact, one of the reasons log files are considered so boring to read is the near monotony of the entries.
Yet, these predictable, repetitive patterns can be a powerful asset in log monitoring. They help you to establish a baseline of system behavior. That way, you can receive automatic notifications whenever there’s an unusual change in long patterns.
5. Improve Your Business
Log monitoring is meant to ensure your systems are working as they ought to. But that is not an end in itself. There’s the overarching goal of your organization: business success. Your log files pack plenty of helpful information that can inform tactical and strategic decisions.
For example, if you notice a rapid rise in traffic to a particular page on your website, you could exploit the opportunity by adding a discount coupon or promo there. In this respect, your logs become a source of business intelligence.
With this understanding of the importance of system logs, it’s time to see log monitoring as something of great use to your business and not just an activity you engage in to fulfill a checklist.