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In the past, system logs such as Windows event logs were only accessed when something went wrong—they served the sole purpose of troubleshooting the system. However, the logging industry has grown beyond functioning only as a means for troubleshooting. Nowadays, logs contribute to various metrics and allow for proactive monitoring methods such as anomaly detection. We’ve seen a general shift from reactive troubleshooting to proactive monitoring, and we’ve seen this in the field of log analysis. In addition, security standards such as COBIT, ISO 270002, and PCI DSS require your organization to implement centralized logging. This push toward inclusion in security standards caused a major boom in the logging industry.
But what about Windows event logs? They deserve the same treatment as application logs. Event logs can give you valuable information about your system’s health and reduce problem resolution time. This article explores the following topics:
– What is a Windows event log?
– What are the benefits of centralized log management?
– Which best practices should you follow for Windows event logs?
Let’s jump right into the first question.
Windows event log management is an important aspect of a SysAdmin’s job. The event log serves as the backbone of their work and provides feedback about their actions and the events happening on the network, systems, and applications they manage.
Windows event logs are generated by all kinds of devices and services running on a network. The Windows event log contains successful transactions, reports of errors, and other recorded warnings about services.
In general, Windows-based systems produce the following log types:
– System: Logs regarding incidents on Windows-specific systems such as outdated hardware drivers.
– Application: Logs regarding the installation of new software or hardware or currently running software.
– Security: Logs regarding a Windows system’s audit policies, login attempts, and resource access.
Next, let’s learn why Windows event logs should be centralized and how this helps reduce problem resolution time.
Centralized log management has been promoted across the software industry with the rise of microservices. Many different services generate logs simultaneously. When things go wrong, a SysAdmin or developer has to individually access logs for each service to understand the request flow and what happened. And there’s typically a large number of distinct services.
As you can see, this is a time-consuming process most developers want to avoid. In addition, it has a negative impact on bug resolution time and might have a correlated impact on revenue for your organization. For example, if your service is offline 10% of the time, you might miss a lot of potential revenue.
For this reason, centralized log management should also be applied to Windows log management. A Windows environment hosts many devices and services, and they all generate logs. When a problem occurs, your SysAdmin has to access and filter through many log files to get a clear understanding of what actually caused your system, application, or service failure.
Furthermore, centralized log management allows you to track various metrics and detect anomalies. Log analysis has grown in popularity, as it supports the proactive monitoring mentality. SysAdmins are expected to proactively look for problems instead of waiting for them to occur. This guarantees a higher availability and reliability for your network, reducing downtime and increasing revenue.
But what do you need to know when implementing Windows event log management? Here are some best practices.
Here are five best practices related to Windows event log management.
This might sound straightforward, but I want to put the focus on log aggregation. Any organization can find tremendous value in log aggregation if they haven’t implemented it yet. Aggregated logs allow you to spot anomalies and contribute data to important health metrics for your Windows network, and they also allow for a faster problem resolution time.
Besides being able to aggregate logs, log aggregation tools offer your SysAdmin a centralized interface for filtering and searching logs. Advanced filtering capabilities are key to quickly detecting and solving problems. For example, what if one device accessed multiple services and caused a system log to be printed in your logs? To understand what went wrong, you can filter your logs for this event ID and sort by timestamp. This presents you with an actionable path of events. In other words, you can access the full timeline for this problem in a matter of seconds.
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Log tagging is a powerful feature designed to help you better distinguish logs and improve searching capabilities. You can set rules to tag specific types of logs deserving attention. For example, say you want to tag all logs for role changes or user profile creation. It’s an important piece of information, as a role change might indicate unwanted activity on your Windows network or a hacker gaining access to your systems. Automatically tagging logs also makes it easier to sort or filter them.
Make sure your services and devices only log relevant data. You don’t necessarily want to log every time a user updates a document. A user might hit the save button multiple times, generating many meaningless logs. Avoid logging irrelevant logs, as they’ll bloat your log stream. A bloated log stream makes it harder to find relevant log data to resolve problems.
For example, you might want to consider logging file creation, as this is more important information. If you detect many files are being created simultaneously, this might indicate malicious activity. Be conscious about the Windows event data you log. A huge increase in log data can impact your Windows network, as your logs may create a bottleneck.
Implement monitoring rules for specific Windows events such as account creation, failed login attempts, or cleared audit logs. This type of proactive monitoring helps you quickly identify issues before they happen. Imagine a hacker is trying to gain access to your system. Through your Windows event log monitoring system, you notice a sudden spike in failed login attempts. This allows you to react proactively and block this user’s IP address or take other protective measures to guarantee the security of your Windows network.
Log formatting is often a forgotten aspect of log management. Different devices and services often generate different types of logs, which is a problem if you want to execute log analysis across your logs. Consider defining rules for formatting logs. A consistent log format helps your log management solution detect problems faster and categorize them more easily.
In other words, keep things consistent. Use a standard format for logging your Windows events to leverage the full power of your log management solution.
Log management has become an art. It requires experience to learn how to set custom rules and allow for proactive monitoring of your Windows event log stream. In addition, a SysAdmin should be capable of separating legitimate warnings from the noise logs produce. For example, your log management solution should generate alerts when it detects an anomaly.
In short, centralized logging helps you reduce the resolution time for problems and increase the reliability and availability of your Windows network.
This post was written by Michiel Mulders. Michiel is a passionate blockchain developer who loves writing technical content. Aside from this, he loves learning about marketing, UX psychology, and entrepreneurship. When he’s not writing, he’s probably enjoying a Belgian beer!