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The Role of Windows Log Monitoring in the Enterprise

Like all modern operating systems, Windows systems perform background logging of events that occur on the desktop.

These log entries can be related to system processes, errors, security events, or other actions. Using available log data, desktop administrators can often determine the underlying cause of a desktop error or gather information related to a security incident.

Windows Event Log data can sometimes also be useful for troubleshooting performance issues, although Windows Performance Monitor does a better job of providing real-time performance data. With many viable use cases and benefits, administrators should be familiar with these logs and how they work.

What are the categories of Windows event logs?

Windows organizes its logging data into a series of logs found in the Windows Logs folder in Event Viewer.

Event logging is not unique to any version of Windows, and event logs have been around for decades in desktop and server operating systems. Administrators can access Windows event logs by entering the “Eventvwr” command at the Windows run prompt. This causes Windows to open Event Viewer, which is the native tool for accessing logging data.

Windows organizes its logging data into a series of logs that reside in Event Viewer. Windows logs case. Each log belongs to a specific category of operating system activity:

  • Candidates log. Includes application-related log data, although some applications create their own dedicated log files. For example, an application log can indicate when an application or service has stopped or when an application has been updated.
  • Security log. Includes security audit data. For example, Windows automatically audits user login events and classifies these events as successes or failures, depending on whether or not the user was able to log on successfully.
  • Installation log. The configuration log can help IT determine which updates were installed and whether an installed update required a system restart. Some update-related log data, such as Microsoft Defender-related updates, falls under the System Log group.
  • System log. The system log is where you can find low-level information related to the overall health of the operating system. This includes information such as Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM) failures, system readiness reports, and basic Windows Update information such as when Windows Update began or completed the update process. up to date. The system log can also include basic health information such as errors related to Windows running out of disk space.
  • Forwarded events. Forwarded events are not used by default. However, IT can configure them to monitor events occurring on another system. The second system then forwards these events and they appear in the destination system’s forwarded events folder.

These categories represent most of the logs that desktop administrators will interact with (see Figure 1). In addition to these basic logs, many additional logs are located in the Applications and Services Logs folder. The logs in this folder are mostly related to individual applications or system services such as the web browser or Microsoft Hyper-V.

Figure 1. Event Viewer showing Windows Log data for the System category.

Anatomy of a journal entry

In addition to displaying the Windows Logs folders, Event Viewer displays a sample of log entries that an IT admin might expect to see when selecting the system folder. There are additional details for all of these log entries which are displayed after double-clicking on the desired log entry.

Log entries display event information in a standard way (see Figure 2).

Information related to a Windows event log, including level, user, source, and event ID.
Figure 2. Individual event details in Event Viewer.

In addition to a description of the event, log entries provide the following information:

  • Log name. Provides the name of the folder that logged the event, such as System or Application.
  • Source. The Windows component that generated the event.
  • Event ID. A numeric code relating to the event. If administrators need to troubleshoot an error shown in the event logs, one of the easiest things to do is to do a web search for the error Event ID.
  • Level. This field indicates the severity of the event, such as informational, warning, or error.
  • User. If the event is related to the actions of a specific user, that user’s name is displayed.
  • Connected. The date and time the event occurred.
  • Task category. This field is not always present, but it will occasionally classify events. A security event relating to user logins, for example, could have a Task category of To log in.
  • Key words. Not all events use this field, but some key types do. For example, security events use keywords to indicate whether the event relates to a pass or fail audit, such as a user logging in or not logging in due to an incorrect password .
  • The computer. This field indicates the name of the device on which the event occurred.

Use Cases for Event Log Monitoring

There are two primary ways IT admins can use Windows Desktop Event Logs in the enterprise. The first use case is for troubleshooting purposes. If a Windows workstation is experiencing performance issues, for example, a technician might choose to go through event logs and determine if there are any events that might provide insight into the source of the problem.

However, the practice of using log files for manual troubleshooting tends to be more common in smaller organizations. When a Windows workstation user encounters a problem in a business organization, IT departments are more likely to simply reimage the system (reinstall Windows) and manually fix the problem.

Also, not all log file-based troubleshooting is manual. There are third-party log analysis products that can analyze Windows log files and perform root cause analysis. In other words, a troubleshooter can automatically gather information found in log files in a way that uncovers the root cause of a problem.

The other major use case for Windows Event Log monitoring is bulk analysis of log files. External tools can collect log entries from an organization’s Windows workstations and consolidate that log data into one place. This aggregated logging data serves many purposes. Some organizations, for example, use log data to show trends such as how often workstations install updates and how fast workstations consume disk space.

Most often, an organization associates an alert engine with aggregated logging data. This will automatically notify the appropriate IT staff of certain types of events. For example, if the log files contain a series of events that collectively point to a security incident, the alert mechanism will notify the security team. Similarly, events indicating impending hardware failure may cause the mechanism to be alerted to the help desk team.

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