by Constantine von Hoffman

One Cheap and Easy Thing All Companies Can Do to Boost Security

Jul 24, 20123 mins
CybercrimeData and Information SecurityIntrusion Detection Software

Event logs are the basic text of what happens in your corporate systems. So why do so many companies ignore them?

The business equivalent to the personal -security sin of using the word “PASSWORD” as your password: Not collecting and reviewing the data from all your system logs. Chances are you’re not doing that. And you should feel guilty about it. But you can take some comfort in knowing you’re not alone.

“Relatively few do it,” says Sherri Davidoff, co-author of the startlingly well-written new book Network Forensics: Tracking Hackers Through Cyberspace. “Mostly it’s companies in the financial sector which are at risk of losing money directly from being attacked.”

The truth is most companies don’t know when they’ve been hacked. That’s not just Davidoff’s opinion. I’ve been told the same thing by folks in the security industry and in law enforcement. One agent from the FBI said he stopped counting the number of times he told IT execs about attacks that they knew nothing about.

Why does this happen? Companies don’t regularly review their event logs to see what’s going on in their own systems.

It astounds me that checking event logs is so uncommon. It’s kind of like checking to make sure you didn’t leave the key in your door lock, folks. You’re probably wagging your head in disbelief, too, because no reader could be that clueless…could they?

Just in case you decide to pass this post along to someone who works at one of those other companies, I will explain why event logs matter:

  • They contain lots of info directly relating to your network, like DHCP lease histories and/or network stats.
  • They include records of network activity including remote login histories.
  • Because they have been transmitted over your network they create network activity.

If you want to find anomalies or unauthorized/unexpected users, the information is all there in event logs.

What is even more baffling about the fact that these logs so frequently go unreviewed is that companies don’t have to check logs manually. They don’t have to sort through all the different log formats to figure this stuff out. There are a lot of programs that will do all of this. All you have to do is read the report.

“You want to make sure you’re not the lowest fruit on the tree; that you’re not the most vulnerable,” says Davidoff. “Fortunately or unfortunately, that’s not that hard to do.”

PS: I read a lot of computer-related books. In most cases I would rather try to read machine code. That is why I have to point out that Network Forensics is actually well-written. It is a text book that you can read and really learn things from. You probably went to college, so I don’t have to tell you how rare that is.