Five reasons for log apathy — and the antidote

Five Reasons for Log Apathy – and the Antidote

How many times have you heard people just don’t care about logs? That IT guys are selfish, stupid or lazy? That they would rather play with new toys than do serious work?
I argue that IT guys are amazing, smart and do care about the systems they curate, but native tools are such that log management is often like running into a brick wall — they encourage disengagement.

Here are five reasons for this perception and what can be done about them.

#1 Obscure descriptions: Ever see a raw log? A Cisco intrusion or a Windows failed object access attempt or a Solaris BSM record to mount a volume? Blech… it’s a description even the author would find hard to love. Not written to be easy to understand, rather its purpose is either debugging by the developer or meant to satisfy certification requirements. This is not apathy, it’s intentional exclusion.

To make this relevant, you need a relevant description which highlights the elements of value, enrichs the information (e.g., lookup an IP address or event id) and not just spew them in time sequence but present information in priority order of risk.

#2 Lack of access: What easier way to spur disengagement than by hiding the logs away in an obscure part of the file system, out of sight to any but the most determined; if they cannot see it, they won’t care about it.

The antidote is to centralize logging and throw up an easy to under display which presents relevant information – preferably risk ordered

#3 Unsexiness:  All the security stories are about wikileaks and credit card theft. Log review is considered dull/boring, it’s a rare occurrence to make it to the plot line of Hawaii Five-O .

Compare it to working out at the gym, it can be boring and there are 10 reasons why other things are more “fun” but it’s good for you and pays handsomely in the long run.

#4 Unsung Heroes: Who is the Big Man on your Campus? Odds are, it’s the guys who make money for the enterprise (think sales guys or CEOs).

Rarely is it the folks who keep the railroad running or god forbid, reduce cost or prevent incidents.

However, they are the wind beneath the wings of the enterprise. The organization that recognizes and values the guys who show up for work everyday and do their job without fuss/drama is much more likely to succeed. Heroes are the ones who make a voluntary effort over a long period of time to accomplish serious goals, not chosen ones with marks on their forehead, destined from birth to save the day.

#5 Forced Compliance: As long as management looks at regulatory compliance as unwarranted interference, it will be resented and IT is forced into checkbox mentality that benefits nobody.

It’s the old question “What comes first? Compliance (chicken) or security (egg)?” We see compliance as a result of secure practices. By making it easy to crunch the data and present meaningful scores and alerts, there is less need to force this.

I’ll say it again, I know many IT guys and gals who are amazing, smart and care deeply about the systems they manage. To combat log apathy, make it easier to deal with them.

Tip of the hat to Dave Meslin whose recent talk at Tedx in Toronto spurred this blog entry

-A.N. Ananth