Understanding Audit Trail Log: 6 Comprehensive Aspects

on Data Catalog, data management • May 13th, 2022 • Write for Hevo

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Software systems help organizations automate most of their tasks. They are good for improving performance, saving time, and reducing human errors. Thus, any serious organization must implement software systems to automate tasks such as accounting, employee management, products management, and more. 

Software systems present in organizations, require auditing to monitor their various activities. There are different reasons for doing this. It can help you to track the history of changes, determine when a particular event occurred, know what was changed by a particular user action, and more. Such information is very useful as far as running an organization is concerned. 

Audit logs document the activities that happen within a software system. By observing them keenly, you can get all the above information. This saves you from doing it manually. This article will discuss the Audit Trail Log in detail and will elaborate on its applications, benefits and challenges. Read along to learn more!

Table of Contents

What is an Audit Trail Log?

Audit Trail Log: Audit Trail logo
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An Audit Trail Log is a time and date-stamped, a sequential record that shows the details and history of a financial transaction, product development phase, work event, or financial ledger entry. Different industries have audit trails in different forms to show their areas of focus, but the main purpose and theme of the audit trail log are to track the sequence of actions and events in chronological order. 

In the healthcare industry, an audit trail log is used to track access to the patient’s medical information and any updates made to it. Financial institutions such as NYSE and SEC use an audit trail log to get detailed information on trades when questions arise on the validity and accuracy of trade data. 

To learn more about Audit Trail Logs, visit here.

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Activities Tracked by an Audit Trail Log 

Audit Trail Log: Audit History
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The following are some of the activities organizations track using the audit trail log:

  1. Administrative Activity: Examples of such administrative activities include the creation and deletion of new user accounts like deleting a user from a CRM tool such as Salesforce. 
  2. Data Access and Modification: These are events where users view, create, or modify data, like downloading files from payroll software. 
  3. Login Failures and User Denials: Audit log trails also capture when a user is not able to login to a system, for example, due to the use of invalid credentials, and is denied access to certain resources such as a particular URL. 
  4. System-wide Changes: Audit log trails can capture events that occur within a network, such as when a user creates a new application or creates a new instance of a virtual machine. 

The decision on the activities to monitor varies from one organization to another. Security engineers, system administrators, and human resource personnel may decide to audit different systems for different reasons. 

How to Conduct Audit Trail Logging?

You should know the fields to audit after the occurrence of a particular event. The following fields are very essential in an audit trail log:

  • Group- The team, department, organization, or account that initiated the activity. 
  • Actor-the username, uuid, or API token name for the account to be held responsible for the action. 
  • Event name- The standard name for the event that happened.
  • Description- A human-readable description of the event that happened. It may contain links to other application pages.
  • When- The time when the event occurred.  
  • Where-  The device identification number, country of origin, or IP address of the device or user responsible for the event. 
  • Action- The kind of modification made to the object. 

Industry Applications of an Audit Trail Log

Audit Trail Logging facilitate the following applications:

  • In telecommunication, the term “audit trail” means a record of completed and attempted accesses and services, and it’s used to trace transactions that have a record’s contents. 
  • In information security, an information audit is a chronological record of system activities that can be used to reconstruct a sequence of events, and it can be dependent upon in a court. They can also help to distinguish security infringement, application issues, and security issues. Routine log audits are valuable in distinguishing approach infringement, security episodes, operational issues, and fake movement immediately after they have happened, and in providing valuable information for settling such issues. 
  • Audit logs can be valuable in performing forensic investigations, setting up baselines, and differentiating long run issues and operational patterns. 
  • In nursing research, it is the act of maintaining a journal or running a log of decisions about the research project, making clear any steps taken and changes done to the original protocol. 
  • In accounting, it is the documentation of detailed transactions that support summary ledger entries. The documentation can be in an electronic or paper format. 
  • In online proofing, it is used to track the version history of a piece of design, artwork, video, photograph, or web design proof in a project. 
  • In clinical research, clinical trial management systems (CTMS) and other server-based systems require audit trails. Anything regulatory also requires audit trails. 
  • In voting, a voter-verified paper audit trail provides feedback to voters via a ballotless voting system.  

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Benefits of an Audit Trail Log

In the past, audit logging was only common in finance and insurance companies but it is now a common practice in all companies with a digital footprint. It helps them to achieve the following goals:

  1. Ensuring Compliance Standards are Met: Audit trail log helps organizations enforce compliance standards such as PCI DSS and HIPAA. The audit logs can act as official records and can be used as proof of compliance with set standards. 
  1. Gaining Insight:The audit trail log can give you insights into your day-to-day activities. Such insights can help to increase accountability by employees, improve performance, and keep the business running smoothly. By reviewing your logs, you can identify the improved and failed operations.
  1. Troubleshooting System Issues: Audit trail log shows the history of events including timelines of system outages and incidents. For example, you can use the logs to distinguish between system error and operator error. They can also be used to remediate a problem, such as restoring a corrupted system file by looking at the changes that were made. 
  1. Improving Security: With the audit trail log, it is easy for companies to identify vulnerabilities and breaches in their security. They also make it possible to trace the actions of a particular entity to that entity. Moreover, their insights can be used to improve the security of software systems used in the organization. 

Challenges of Audit Trail Logging

The major challenge of audit logging is knowing or identifying what to audit. Organizations end up collecting audit trail logs that document particular activities or from some systems. They may want to retain the logs for a shorter period of time to reduce the storage costs. Deciding which logs to collect can be hard, and it can result in a lack of enough information for auditing or investigation. 

Organizations also face the challenge of preventing access to and modification of audit trail logs. The integrity of an audit log is very important for its value. An intruder may modify an audit trail log to cover their tracks. Thus, organizations should put up measures to control access to audit logs. If possible, this should only be restricted to a few people within the organization. 

Complex distributed environments are also a great challenge to audit logging. If an intruder modifies the audit trail log in one system, the other system will be affected. At the end of it, it may be hard to correlate the logs together. 

Conclusion

The article introduced you to Audit Trail Logs and discussed its 6 key aspects including its applications, benefits and challenges. An audit trail log is a time and date-stamped, sequential record with details and history of events that happen within a software system. An audit trail log helps to track administrative events, data accesses and modifications, login failures, user denials, and system-wide changes. 

The audit trail is good for ensuring that compliance standards are met within an organization, gaining insights, troubleshooting software to improve security, and providing legal evidence. However, organizations experience a challenge in identifying what to audit in their software systems. The Audit trail log can also be accessed and edited by an intruder with the goal of covering their tracks.  

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