Why You Need Cloud Log Management & 3 Critical Best Practices

Why You Need Cloud Log Management & 3 Critical Best Practices

What Is Cloud Log Management? 

Cloud log management is an advanced approach to managing and analyzing log data generated by applications, systems, and networks in a cloud-based environment. It streamlines the process of collecting, centralizing, and analyzing log data, providing insights into system performance, security, and user behavior.

Cloud log management collects log data from various sources, centralizes it, and presents it in an understandable format. It eliminates the need for manual log analysis, saving time and reducing the possibility of human errors. As businesses continue to leverage the cloud, adopting cloud-based log management becomes more of a necessity than a luxury.

Cloud log management is a powerful tool that enables organizations to make data-driven decisions. By analyzing the patterns and trends in log data, organizations can optimize their operations, enhance security, and improve user experience. It is not just about managing log data, but transforming it into actionable insights.

Importance of Cloud-Based Log Management 

Cloud-based log management plays several critical roles in cloud operations:

Security Monitoring and Compliance Auditing

Security monitoring involves monitoring and analyzing log data to detect security threats and vulnerabilities. This is inclusive from activity involving initial authentication and authorization, throughout all actions performed by the user on a particular system.

Cloud log management tools can analyze log data in real time, identify patterns that indicate a security threat — aka an indicator of compromise (IoC) — and generate alerts. With proper workflows, this speeds the IT team’s ability to take swift action, mitigating the risk of security breaches.

Cloud log management also plays a significant role in compliance. By providing detailed logs, especially around access controls, data handling, and PII, businesses can demonstrate compliance with various regulations, such as GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, and more.

Performance Monitoring

Performance monitoring involves tracking and analyzing the performance of applications, systems, and networks to ensure they are operating at optimum efficiency.

Log and metrics collection provide valuable insights into system performance. By analyzing these, IT teams can identify performance bottlenecks, detect anomalies, and understand the impact of system changes on performance. Cloud log management tools can offer real-time performance monitoring, enabling IT teams to take immediate action in case of performance degradation.

Troubleshooting and Debugging

Cloud log management is an invaluable tool for troubleshooting and debugging. When a system or application error occurs, the first thing IT teams do is look at the logs.

Logs provide detailed information about system operations, making it easier to identify the root cause of problems. Cloud log management tools can analyze logs from various sources, correlate events, and provide a consolidated view of system operations. This makes troubleshooting faster and more efficient.

Capacity Planning

Capacity planning is a critical aspect of IT operations and cloud log management plays a significant role in it. It involves analyzing the current usage and performance of systems and networks to predict future capacity needs.

Log data provides insights into system usage patterns, resource utilization, and performance trends. By analyzing this data, IT teams can accurately predict future capacity needs, plan for upgrades, and avoid system outages due to capacity issues.

Ensuring Security and Compliance

Whether doing business with a state entity, supplier, or government agency, or simply assessing industry-specific compliance and governance requirements, all cloud operations have needs for monitoring and reporting on activity, and secure log storage for future inquiries. 

Cloud security controls include log data from cloud sources (for example, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Amazon S3 buckets, and Microsoft Azure blobs), secondary cloud access provisioning services such as virtual firewalls, proxies, web application firewalls (WAFs), or other API provisioning may all have long-term storage requirements to meet compliance needs. 

Types of Logs Managed in Cloud Environments 

In a cloud environment, various types of logs are generated. These include:

Application and Transaction Logs

These logs provide insights into how an application is behaving or performing. They are a record of events that occur when an application is running. These logs can help diagnose problems, understand user behavior, and optimize application performance. These also include transactions made by both users and API interactions.

When it comes to cloud log management, application logs are vital because they provide a detailed view of application runtime behavior. They can identify errors or exceptions that might occur, track user activity and application usage patterns, and provide valuable input for performance tuning and optimization.

System and Message Logs

System logs record events that occur within the operating system and its components. These logs are critical for understanding the health and performance of the system on which your applications are running.

Most operating systems run in user mode, using a standard logging facility. For example, Syslog collects messages from various programs and services, including the kernel, and then, depending on the configuration, stores them in a log file. Secondarily, message logs contain valuable, non-debug and non-critical messages. This log should be considered the “general system activity” log. The operating system in use can matter here; for instance, Windows sometimes stores system and message logs in the same files, whereas some Linux varieties use separate logs for messages and syslog. 

In the context of cloud log management, system logs provide a comprehensive view of the cloud infrastructure’s performance. They can identify system-level issues, such as hardware failures, operating system errors, and network disruptions. By analyzing system logs, you can troubleshoot these issues and ensure that your cloud infrastructure is performing optimally.

Security Event Logs

Security event logs record transactions related to the security of your cloud resources. This could include events like login attempts, access to resources, changes to security configurations, and potential security threats or attacks.

Security event logs are crucial in a cloud environment where resources are shared and accessed over the internet. They help in identifying potential security breaches, investigating incidents, and ensuring compliance with security policies and regulations. With effective cloud log management, you can strengthen the security of your cloud resources and protect sensitive data.

Network Logs

Network logs record events related to network activity, such as traffic patterns, connection attempts, and network performance. Network logs are essential for understanding the network behavior and performance in your cloud environment.

In cloud log management, network logs provide valuable insights into the interaction between your cloud resources and the network. They can identify network-related issues, such as connectivity problems, slow network performance, and potential network attacks. By analyzing network logs, you can optimize your network performance and ensure a smooth and secure network operation.

Audit Logs

Audit logs record events related to user activity, such as who accessed what resources and when. In critical systems, application audit logs can and often do show changes to the application itself, in terms of configuration changes, new users created, and privilege updates. Audit logs are critical for ensuring accountability and tracing back actions in the cloud environment.

In the context of cloud log management, audit logs provide a trail of user activity. They can identify unauthorized access, track changes to resources, and provide evidence in case of an investigation or audit. By effectively managing audit logs, you can ensure accountability, transparency, and compliance in cloud operations.

Cloud Log Management Best Practices 

Here are some best practices that can help in effective cloud log management:

1. Centralized Log Management

With cloud resources spread across different regions, services, and instances, logs can be scattered and difficult to manage. By centralizing your logs, you can have a unified view of them, making them easier to search, analyze, and interpret.

Centralized log management not only simplifies log management but also enhances the efficiency of log analysis. It allows you to correlate events across different logs, identify patterns, and detect anomalies. With a centralized log management system, you can effectively manage your logs and gain valuable insights from them.

2. Log Security Best Practices 

Because your logs could potentially provide a blueprint of your network, services, users, and more, it is important to maintain security hygiene best practices as you collect, centralize, move, and store logs long term. In transmission, use secure protocols, such as HTTPS or TLS to transmit your log data to your cloud-based log analysis tools. Additionally, verify that all vendors involved within your security stack encrypt your log data at rest on their servers and storage devices.

Secondarily, but no less importantly, make sure that your logging systems and frameworks are patched to the latest versions at all times. As an example, Apache Log4j, a Java-based logging utility, was compromised by malicious actors. Maintaining patches for all security updates everywhere in your libraries and development stack is just as important as endpoint and server security patching.

3. Regular Review and Analysis of Logs

Logs in a cloud environment are continuously generated and updated. It’s crucial to regularly review and analyze these logs to stay on top of your cloud operations, security, and compliance.

Regular review and analysis of logs can help in identifying issues early, understanding trends, and making informed decisions. It can support performance improvement, security monitoring, and compliance audits, among other tasks.

Learn more: Read our detailed guide to log analysis tools.

4. Implementing Log Retention Policies

Given the volume of logs generated in a cloud environment, it’s not feasible or cost effective to store all logs indefinitely. It’s crucial to define and implement log retention policies that determine how long what kinds of logs are kept and when they are discarded.

Log retention policies not only help in managing storage costs but also ensure compliance with data retention regulations. They allow you to retain the logs necessary for your operations, security, and compliance needs, while discarding the rest. By implementing effective log retention policies, you can optimize your log storage and ensure compliance.

These policies include not only log storage — because there may be mandated time periods for particular logs such as access and authorization — but a reasonable review of how long you need to actively access those logs. For instance, having the ability to do a fast search on the last 12 months of log data can aid a potential breach investigation, but there are far fewer investigations based on system events more than 12 months in the past. This is why many log vendors divide their long-term storage options based on access needs.

Learn more: Read our detailed guide to log management best practices 

Security Log Management in the Cloud with Exabeam

Exabeam offers performant, highly scalable solutions to securely ingest, normalize, and store your organization’s data to support a variety of security use cases. With lightning-fast search capabilities, Exabeam enables the scale to query real-time logs and historical data at the same speed. 

Exabeam provides event standardization using a common information model (CIM), which provides extensibility to future-proof new log sources and prepare data to support security use cases. In addition, dashboards and real-time views into the data pipeline ensure the system’s health and performance by monitoring the flow of logs through the system — including full audit logs of all actions taken by users. 

Dashboards and visualizations enable quick and comprehensive compliance with industry regulations. Custom correlation rule building with automated notification responses are one click away via easy search and rule construction. And if you’re looking for long-term storage solutions, Exabeam offers up to ten years of log storage in the cloud.