The idea of a log file in the context of information technology (IT) systems, networks and computers is akin to the idea of an audit trail in business or record keeping in general. A log file is a record of the activities that have been happening in a system. In turn, log analysis is the analysis of that data to help deal with arising issues, prevent risks to the system and ensure compliance with regulations.
That still doesn’t say how log analysis works, exactly, so let’s take a deeper look at it. First of all, logs are created and stored by lots of different systems, including programmable devices, smart devices, operating systems, applications, and network devices. Logs are composed of messages that are listed in chronological order in a file that is typically stored in a special application known as a log collector.
These messages can be numerous, depending on the amount of activity that has been going on in the system. The analyst has to make sure that all of the messages are included in the log and that they are well interpreted in relation to the context in which they occurred.
Much of log analysis involves cleaning the log data itself. That means the log has to be normalized to be more consistent. If you’re collecting logs from different systems, for example, you may find that one system talks about “critical” situations while another talks about “warnings.” It’s important to have the same terms for the same phenomena so that analysis is easier. It also makes reports and statistics from data from different sources more accurate and meaningful.
The log data, once sanitized and well-structured, can then be analyzed to detect various anomalies and patterns like the possibility that your network is being infiltrated.
What Can You Use Log Analysis For?
There are lots of different ways you can use log analysis to your advantage:
- You can use log analysis for compliance purposes. There are lots of policies and regulations, both internal and external, which need to be complied with. Log analysis can help in this compliance.
- Log analysis can help to understand a data breach or whatever other kinds of a security breach that has occurred. Log analysis can help the analyst uncover the cause of the breach and help to prevent it in the future.
- Log analysis can be used as a method of troubleshooting. Whether it is for a computer, network or complex large scale system, usually the root of a problem may be understood by going through the logs.
- Log analysis can be done to gain insights into the behavior of users. If you’re offering some kind of service or running a website, you might want to know what users do when they visit your site. Log analysis can help you do that.
- Log analysis is also an important tool in an investigation. In case something happens to the system, and you would like to get at the heart of it, log analysis can help with the forensic investigations.
Log analysis is important for some organizations since they need to conduct it regularly to comply with regulations and be certified. Apart from that, it is also a great way to save time for lots of companies when they are trying to diagnose the issues in their systems and resolve those issues. It also helps when managing their applications and the infrastructure that keeps those applications running.
Log Analysis Tools
The thing about logs is that a log, as a record, can be generated for pretty much anything, from server uptimes to errors to database queries to content delivery network (CDN) traffic. That collection part isn’t the difficult part. The difficult part is the sanitation and then analysis of the data. That’s where log analysis tools (also known as a log analyzer) and software come in. These tools will extract data from the logs and then analyze it to find patterns and trends that can guide businesses in strengthening their security, investigating issues and making decisions for the future. These analysis tools are quite helpful for various administrators, including network and system administrators, as well as web developers, security managers, and DevOps.
Ultimately, log analysis is an important process for any business and can help you save plenty of time while giving you an effective method to manage your issues. The most important thing is that you get the right log analysis software for your system, and the entire process will be a breeze.