18.4 When to Look at the Logs

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A beginner might start to get squeamish about all this diverse information begging for attention. Maybe, just maybe, you can get away without having to analyze the data? Quite likely the answer is no. A simple law of log analysis is that you don't log what you don't plan to look at! Or, as one of Murphy's Laws puts it, "Only look for those problems that you know how to solve." In security, that means to only detect what you plan to respond to and only log what you plan to look at. For example, any intrusion detection system (discussed in Chapter 19) is only as good as the analyst watching its output. Thus, if you have no idea what "WEB-CGI webdist.cgi access" means, you have no business running Snort with that signature enabled. Taking appropriate action based on the result will be impossible if you don't understand what actually happened and what actions are appropriate under the circumstances.

This advice does not negate the argument that logging everything is useful for post-incident forensics and investigation. Indeed, if logs will be used for incident response, rules like "don't log what you won't look at" no longer apply. In many cases, logging everything is the best route, since often seemingly insignificant bits allow you to solve the case. We just mean that if logfiles are never looked at (and simply rotated away by the log rotation program), they are not useful.

Consider the case of a home or small office computer system. Here, logs are only useful in the case of major system trouble (such as hardware or operating system failures) or security breaches (which are hopefully easy to prevent, since you only have to watch a single system or a small number of systems). Even under these circumstances, you must look at logs if there is any hope of fixing a problem or preventing its recurrence . Otherwise, your time would be better spent reinstalling your Windows operating system (or better yet, replacing it with Unix). Poring over logs for signs of potential intrusions is not advisable, unless such things excite you or you are preparing for certification in intrusion analysis. Only the minimum amount of logging should be enabled.

Next, let us consider a small- to medium- sized business, which likely has no dedicated security staff. Their security posture is limited to "stay out of trouble." In this sense, it is similar to a home system, with a few important differences. This environment often includes those people who used to astonish security professionals with comments like, "Why would somebody want to hack us? We have nothing that interests hackers." Nowadays, most people understand that server disk storage, CPU cycles, and high-speed network connections have a lot of value for malicious hackers. Log analysis for such an organization focuses on detecting and responding to high-severity threats. While it is well known that many low-severity threats (such as someone performing port scans ) might be a precursor for a more serious attack (such as an attempted break-in), a small company rarely has the manpower and skills to investigate them.

A large corporate business is regulated by more administrative requirements than a single private citizen. Among these requirements might be responsibility to shareholders, fear of litigation for breach of contract, and professional liability. Thus, the level of security and accountability is higher. Most organizations connected to the Internet now have at least one firewall and some sort of DMZ set up for public servers (web, email, FTP, remote access). Many are deploying intrusion detection systems and Virtual Private Networks (VPNs). All these technologies raise new concerns about what to do with signals coming from them, as companies rarely hire new security staff just to handle those signals. In a large network environment, log analysis is of crucial importance. The logs present one of the few ways of detecting the threats flowing from the hostile Internet.

Overall, the answer to the question "Do I have to do this?" ranges from a petulant "probably not" for a small business, all the way to a solid "Yes, you have to!" for a large company.

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Security Warrior
Security Warrior
ISBN: 0596005458
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2004
Pages: 211

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