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Network Security Through Data Analysis, 2nd Edition by Michael Collins

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Chapter 5. Sensors in the Service Domain

This chapter discusses specific sensors in the service domain. Service sensors, including HTTP server logs and mail transfer logs, describe the activity of a particular service: who sent mail to whom, what URLs were accessed in the last five minutes, activity that’s moderated through a particular service.

As we saw in the previous chapter, service domain data is log data. Where available, logs are often preferable to other sources because they are generated by the affected process, removing the interpretation and guesswork often needed with network data. Service logs provide concrete information about events that, viewed from the network perspective, are hard to reconstruct.

Logs have a number of problems, the most important one being a management headache—in order to use a log, you have to know it exists and get access to it. In addition, host-based logs come in a large number of formats, many of them poorly documented. At the risk of a sweeping generalization, the overwhelming majority of logs are designed for debugging and troubleshooting individual hosts, not for evaluating security across networks. Where possible, you’ll often need to reconfigure them to include more security-relevant information, possibly needing to write your own aggregation programs. Finally, logs are a target; attackers will modify or disable logging if possible.

Logs complement network data. Network data is good at finding blind spots, confirming phenomena reported ...

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