How to Conduct an Activity Log Analysis

How to conduct an activity log analysis

Log management is the process of collecting information on the events generated by your software platforms, any applications you use, and the infrastructure on which everything runs. It’s true that not all software generates logs, and certain platforms only generate limited types of logs. For example, WordPress does not generate an activity log, but it does generate other useful log files you can find on your WordPress web server.

Activity log management systems are software tools that are used to gather this data in a single place where you can analyze it as a whole. From this one vantage point, you gain an overall picture of how your software systems are performing and look for patterns to help you achieve business goals.

This blog post will describe what activity log analysis means in practice by asking the basic questions: what, why, how and when. Although the focus is on WordPress websites and activity log plugins, these principles are applicable to any application that collects and orders data in the form of activity event logs.

What is an Activity Log Analysis?

An activity log is a computer-generated record of events and changes that happen on a system, such as your WordPress or other website application. In most activity logs, activities are recorded and arranged in chronological order, the most recent at the top. But plugins can make other methods of order and filtering available too, such as by importance or by the trigger that instigated the event.

Log analysis is making sense of this record of events and putting it to use for your business. As a general rule, the more comprehensive and detailed the information your log activity records, the greater the potential of your log analysis. But, a large quantity of data alone is insufficient. It needs to be the right information – structured in the right way – to maximize its value.

Why Should I Conduct an Activity Log Analysis?

At first, amassing all the information contained in an activity log might seem a waste of time. Who apart from system administrators needs to know the information kept on web server logs, application logs or system logs? Analyzing that information could seem like something only needed in extreme emergencies. So why bother?

Compliance

Websites collect data. This data collection requires compliance with country and state laws, and adherence to standard industry guidelines and expectations. This is especially true where payment card information is handled. Activity logs help you comply with data protection policies that require organizations to keep log records of network and website changes for accountability purposes. For instance, one relevant legal requirement is the PCI DSS requirement on tracking and monitoring all access to network devices and user activities. GDPR regulations also require such a transparent audit trail.

Troubleshooting

All websites have maintenance and security issues that are often solved by a mix of guesswork and reverse engineering. WordPress sites are no exception. Activity log analysis can help you understand what happened before a problem arose and pinpoint when the issue emerged. This information can aid you in identifying the issue. This helps reduce the time you need to spend diagnosing and fixing problems.

Security

Activity logs can help you understand what has happened in case of a website vulnerability or other security issue. Web application security monitoring enables you to identify suspicious activity and service abuses that precede possible attacks. It can help you conduct cyberattack forensics by identifying exploited security flaws, as well as recover from malicious hacks and data breaches. And it allows you to strengthen website security against future attempts.

Customer Care and Retention

It’s not just suspicious behavior you need to monitor. Activity logs can also aid you in understanding the behavior of users. Of course, employing the services of a specialized website analytics solution – such as Microsoft Clarity – is the best way to track and report traffic. But activity log plugins do keep a record of where logged in users are moving in their online journey and what they are accessing. These sorts of metrics can provide a good starting point for discovering why users are coming to your site and how you can improve user experience.

Accountability and Administration

If you can keep track of user and website changes, then you can increase and encourage user accountability. This is another weapon in your arsenal against unauthorized access, or admin/permission mistakes made by any writers and editors working with you. In particular, e-commerce store owners can use activity log plugins to track and analyze all kinds of online functions and user behavior, from discount approvals and refunds to changes in stock quality.

How to Conduct an Activity Log Analysis

You can conduct a log analysis using a mixture of specialized tools, such as log analysis software, and manual techniques. Tools play an invaluable part in two ways. They can automate many of the data tasks involved in log analysis. And they can enable you to perform those tasks that require manual input.

Here is a breakdown of the different activities involved in log analysis. These activities are grouped together according to whether they are automatic or manual. Automatic activities are conducted by your platform as a matter of routine, while others are dependent on apps or your own input.

Automatic Tasks

  1. Record – gathering and safely storing the data
  2. Track – mapping and logging the route the data took to reach its current location
  3. Aggregate – consolidating the data to centralize it into one place for viewing
  4. Index – labeling all the log entries with a unique ID

Semi-Automatic Tasks

  1. Order – categorizing the data into classes and groups according to keywords
  2. Archive – removing older activity log data to another database for streamlining purposes

Manual Tasks

  1. Search and filter – exploring the data using text, searches and other filters to locate what you’re looking for
  2. Analyze – filtering the data to fine tune your search results and detect patterns
  3. Monitor – viewing or receiving information about data events in real time, such as tracking logged in WordPress users

Semi-Manual Tasks

  1. Alert – creating SMS and email notifications and alerts based on patterns found or dangers anticipated that are sent to you
  2. Generate reports from the Activity Log – generating reports on user activity and statistical information from templates

What to Look For in an Activity Log Analysis

Having tools that record all this data and give you the ability to search or filter is great. But what do you actually look out for in your data analysis of log content? To say you’re looking for user activity is true but this is too general an answer. We’ve mentioned patterns and anomalies. But these assume you are already familiar with data trends.What you need to look out for in the first instance are changes. These are differences in website activity over time, and the replacement of one user activity with another. Website changes that track activities, such as monitoring your WordPress website for changes, including user and log file changes, will reap the greatest rewards. But what specifically are these changes?

Content Changes

The most obvious examples are when users:

  • Create, publish, update or delete content
  • Upload or delete files
  • Alter categories, tags, statuses, URLs, and custom fields

Store and Product Changes

This includes obvious changes to your ecommerce and WooCommerce stores, such as changes in product and orders. It needs to include changes to every setting:

  • Pricing
  • Shipping
  • Tax
  • Unit

Website Changes

This includes:

  • System settings
  • Setup changes updates
  • Tracking of automated updates
  • Changes to platform settings
  • Core updates
  • Updates to plugins
  • Updates to themes

Third Party Plugins Changes

For example, the WP Activity Log has activity logs extensions for third party plugins that keep a log of changes in some of the popular WordPress plugins. But all plugin and theme installations should be logged too.

Multisite Network Changes

This includes changes at the child site level for all child sites and throughout the network, including system and network settings. If your site has been developed in WordPress, you’ll need an activity log plugin that handles multisite networks, preferably with immediate usability upon purchase.

User Admin Changes

This must include:

Metadata Changes

All sorts of useful metadata – that is, data about the data – is available in a professional activity log. While this metadata is not about the changes themselves, it can provide additional context and information about what happened. For instance, the WP Activity Log uncovers what metadata is available in activity log events, including ID, severity level, date and time, user and role, IP address, object, event type, and message.

When to Conduct an Activity Log Analysis

Conducting a regular log analysis is a way of ensuring that you are keeping your system running right and that you always work within compliance recommendations. Here are some best practice suggestions for integrating log analysis into your regular administrative and security routines.

Check your activity log often. But also set up notifications for instant alerts for events you want to monitor closely.

Once you appreciate the volume of information contained in your activity log, and its usefulness, you will appreciate the need for frequent updates on relevant user changes and issues. We suggest scheduling these into your weekly work routine. But, more importantly, invest time in setting up notifications and alerts for key events, such as security checking and user accountability monitoring.

Create automated reports to summarize the collated information.

Select an activity log with reporting functionality. Make sure it has built-in, configurable templates to optimize your time. Importantly, ensure that you select activity log software that enables automatically emailed reports. Less time spent configuring reports means more time spent fixing issues that arise from automated alerts and reports.

Whenever you suspect anything, check it out!

Activity log forensics is not only for cybersecurity consultants! These alerts and reports put all the information you need at your disposal. But you still need to act on it if anything seems suspicious. Regular monitoring and action can help avoid a more catastrophic consequence for your websites and your company.

How to Keep and Analyze a WordPress Activity Log

Security log analysis tools are vital in the process of both logging activities and analyzing them on WordPress. WordPress itself does not have a dedicated activity log as part of its core platform. It is up to you to figure out the best way to configure and use a WordPress activity log for your WordPress websites.

What we recommend is that you install a WordPress Activity Log plugin to log website events. An activity log plugin has sensors that track and record all WordPress website events. But which one should you select?

We recommend a WordPress activity log that can carry out the following log collector and log analyzer functions. It must give you the ability to:

  • Collect and order all the metadata on WordPress events
  • Gather your log activity information in one place
  • Search for data and filter findings so that you can locate what you need rapidly
  • Order your findings according to WordPress activity log severity levels (e.g. Informational, Low, Medium, High, Critical)
  • Archive old activity log data automatically within configurable periods
  • View who is logged in to your website in real time and see their latest changes
  • Send you instant email notifications and SMS alerts triggered by set criteria
  • Generate multiple types of report from the activity logs and export them in different formats
  • Schedule reports to be automatically sent to you at a frequency of your choice
  • Integrate with other log management systems and log management tools you use

The WP Activity Log performs all these functions and more. And it does so without affecting the performance or your website. In our age of cybersecurity threats and remote working challenges, the need for such a WordPress activity log, and the business and forensic analysis of log activities it performs, has never been greater. Start a free trial today and see what it can do for you.

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