September 14, 2007

Open Log Format – What a Great Standard – Not

Category: Log Analysis,Security Information Management — Raffael Marty @ 4:01 pm

When eIQnetworks announced their OpenLogFormat, I think they did it just for me. I love it. I really enjoy taking these things apart to show why they are really really bad attempts. I am sure these guys are not readers of my blog. Otherwise they would have known that I will question their standard, line by line. It just doesn’t add up for me. Why are companies/people not learning/listening?
So, there is yet another “standard” for event interoperability being suggested by yet another vendor. While some vendors (for example the one I used to work for), actually thought about the problem and made sure they are coming up with something useful, I am not sure this standard lives up to that promise. Let me go through the standard piece by piece, right after some general comments:

  • Why another interoperability standard? There is not a single word of motivation printed in the standards document. Don’t we have existing standards already?
  • You have to register for download the standard? Well, I know, ArcSight makes that same mistake. That wasn’t my doing! I promise.
  • How does this standard compare to others? What’s the motivation for defining it? Is it better than everything else?
  • When exactly would you apply this standard? All the time? OLF (the open log format) states:
    OLF is designed for logging network events such as those often logged by firewalls, but it can also be used for events not related to the network.
    What the heck does that mean? For everything? Do you want me to proof you wrong? There are tons of examples where this thing won’t be able to apply this standard.
  • You did not do your homework, my friends! In a lot of areas. Some friends of mine already commented on the fact that this is advertised as an “open” log format. The press release even calls it an open source log format. What does that mean? Was there a period for public comment? Believe me, there wasn’t. I would have known FOR SURE!
  • With regards to the homework. Have you heard of CEE? Yes, that’s a group that actually knows quite a bit about logging. Why bother asking them, they would only critique the proposal and possibly shoot it down? You bet. That’s what I am doing right now anyways.
  • Let’s see, did you guys learn from past mistakes? Don’t get me started. I claim NO. Read on and you will see a lot of cases that proof why.
  • Have you read my old blog entries and at least tried to understand what logging is about? I can guarantee that you guys have not. Or maybe you didn’t understand what I was saying. Hmm…. Here again, for your reference.
  • Have you looked at the other standards out there? For example CEF (common event format) from ArcSight. I am definitely biased towards that one, as I have written it, but even now that I don’t work there anymore, I still think that CEF is actually a really good logging standard. Again. Not done your homework!
  • Last general question: Why would I be using this standard as opposed to anything else, for example CEF. Is eIQnetworks big enough so I would care? Last time I checked, the answer was: No. If this was something that was done by Microsoft, I might care, just because of their size. Maybe you have a lot of vendors already supporting this standard? Yes? How many? Who? I have not heard OLF ever before and I deal with log management every day! So I doubt any significant adoption is reality. Actually, I just checked the Web page and there are six companies supporting it. Okay. All that 😉

Let’s go through the standard in more detail:

  • I already made this point: What is the area where this standard applies? Networking and non-networking events (That’s what OLF claims)? Nice. And why would you require an IP address field (to be exact: internalIP and externalIP) for every record? In your world, are there only events that contain IPs? In mine, there are many others too!
  • You are proposing a log-file approach. So you are defining a file-based standard, limiting it to one transport. Okay. But why? Again, read my blog about transport-independence. Who is logging to files only? A minority of products in the networking realm.
  • Have you guys written parsers before? (Yes, I have!). Do you know how bad it is to read headers first? Makes a whole lot of use-cases impossible. And to be frank, it requires too much coding (I am lazy).
  • Minor detail: You guys are already on version 1.1? Hmm… I wonder how version 1.0 looked 😉
  • I don’t think the author of this paper has written a standard before: “The #Version line gives the version of OLF, which should always be 1.1.” How do you do updates? You deprecate this document? Confusing, confusing.
  • Why do you need a #Date line in the header? That does not make any sense AT ALL!
  • Okay, so you are using a header line that defines the fields. All right. Let’s assume that’s a good idea in order to reduce the size of an event (exercise to the reader why this is true). Why do you say then:
    NOTE: The fields may not vary; they must alwas be the ones specified in this document.

    What? This does not make any sense at all! Whatsoever! Delete that line. Done. It’s irrelevant.
  • Let’s go back to the header line. Why all these required fields? spam-info? This is very inefficient. Why have all these fields for every event? It unnecessarily bloats your events and circumvents the idea of a header line!
  • Tab-separated fields. Okay. Your choice. Square brackets to deal with escaping? Are you guys coders? That’s not a standard way of doing things at all. Anyone who wrote code before, have you seen this approach anywhere? If you stuck to commas and quotes, you might be able to read your logs in Excel without any configuration 😉
  • tab-separated subfields. Shiver.
  • Guys, your example on page one is horrible. Priority in the preamble and in the suffix? Then the virtualdevice is root? Maybe I can’t count. You know what, I think the fields don’t even align. What are all the IPs in the message? Part of the message (the one with the seemingly interesting IPs) seems to be lumped together into one field (uses the square brackets). I don’t get it.
  • Error lines? Come again? So there are really two different types of log entries? Or no, hang on, there aren’t. Those lines are only generated if the OLF consumer realizes that the format is not correct? What does that have to do with a logging standard. If I wasn’t confused yet, now I definitely am.
  • Open source: “a device-type assigned by eIQnetworks”. No further comment.
  • Wow. Is it right that every log entry carries the “original” log message also (called the Nativelog)? So, if a product supports OLF by default, that’s just empty? Come on guys. Are you really suggesting to double the size of messages?
  • Talking about the field dictionary… What does it mean to have “unused” fields? Unused by what? The standard? Oh, maybe this is not a standard?
  • I will spare you the analysis of all the fields in the dictionary. There are tons of problems. Just one: If you have a count bigger than one and you only have one timestamp. What does that mean? All the events happened at the same time?
  • Note that the Nativelog field is defined as: Original syslog line. Okay, so this is a file-based standard, but it consumes syslog messages?
  • event types: There is indeed, and I kid you not, a -1 value. Is that for real?
  • priority codes: Nice. Read this (again, this is a standard, in case you forgot):
    The descriptions [of the priorities] given are the official interpretation, but usage varies; some vendors report routine events with higher priority
  • Note the copyright at the bottom of the pages 😉 [Okay, I admit, I might have made the same mistake with the first version of CEF, you are forgiven].

Have I convinced you yet why not to use this “standard”?

Random observation: Why does this log remind me of IIS logs gone wrong?

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