Security logging and monitoring failures feature in the OWASP Top 10 list, moving up to #9 from #10 in the 2017 list. Why so?
Because logging and monitoring failures hinder your effective threat detection.
If the website risks are not logged properly, flaws will go unnoticed and unaddressed. And the longer it takes to identify and stop threats, the higher the damage and costs.
Given the importance, website log monitoring is critical to detect and respond to web attacks.
An Introduction to Website Logs
Website logs are text files that contain time-stamped immutable records of events. All websites, applications, network devices, operating systems, servers, etc., automatically write and maintain log files.
Web logs contain events such as
- Hits to the website
- Views of HTML documents, images, and other objects
- Who is visiting the site?
- Where are they visiting from?
- Visitors’ activities on the site
Types of Website Logs
There are different kinds of website logs based on the source of logs and their nature. Here are some examples:
Web Server Logs
They record all activities related to a specific web server over a defined time period. They offer an unfiltered look at the website traffic and all requests to the server. Stored as text documents in the database, they are created automatically.
It constantly collects server data to provide organizations insights on when, how, and by whom the server is used. These website server logs contain raw data and can be customized to produce other reports.
The types of server logs that can be produced are:
- Error Logs
- Access Logs
- Referrer Logs
They are user-friendly and readable logs. They inform the organization about all the activities taken by every user on the website.
Why is Website Logging So Important?
Prevent Website Attacks
Improved website security logs and monitoring would also play a role in prevention. It aids in the detection and response of breaches.
Some logging and monitoring flaws include the following issues:
- Insufficient, unclear, or no logging of auditable events
- Website logs not being examined for malicious activities
- Improper storage of logs
- Inadequate/ unclear error messages
- Not using real-time log monitoring and alerting systems
The best logging and monitoring tools offer real-time alerts and insights on website changes, errors, and gaps. Thereby enabling you to prevent a wide range of attacks and data breaches.
Detecting Anomalous/ Suspicious Behaviour
Website and web server logs offer a complete record of all events and activities happening on the website. Hence, you can seamlessly track user journeys and behavior on the site. It includes:
- Time spent by users
- Pages on which users spent time
- Actions performed
- Uploads/ downloads
- Navigational patterns
- Failed processes
By analyzing the logs, you can identify anomalies and suspicious behaviors of users. You can stop various attacks, including injections, bot attacks, and DDoS. For instance, many failed login attempts often indicate a bot attack.
Gaining Visibility into Website Changes
With a good log management and monitoring solution, website logs enable you to monitor any website changes closely. Some of the activities that logs offer visibility into are:
- Changes to core website files
- Privilege escalation
- Changes in user roles and permissions
- Addition, deletion, and updates to blog posts
- File uploads
- Activation, deactivation, and modification of plugins and themes
Most regulatory frameworks, including GDPR, HIPAA, PCI-DSS, etc., require organizations to maintain and monitor website logs.
Debugging the Application
Logs also provide details about the path of your code. This way, you can unearth errors and bugs in your application.
They enable you to discover errors that occur in runtime and fix them. So, website logs are useful in debugging the application.
Monitor Website Health
With key metrics and insights, logs enable you to continuously monitor the health of your website. For instance, by using error rate insights, you can quickly identify and fix problems.
Website logs also tell you what is happening behind the scenes and when it happened. Suppose something goes wrong with the systems/ applications or networks. In that case, you will have detailed records of all actions before the anomaly.
You can also perform forensic analysis and identify the root cause of issues. If the systems behave normally, you can find how applications react and perform. Enabling you to finetune and improve performance.
Website logs are imperative for threat detection and prevention. They help to strengthen your website’s security, availability, and performance.