PHP Security: Tips To Fortify Your Website’s Security

PHP or Hypertext Processor is a server-side scripting language, which is very popular among web developers, thanks to highly flexible syntax with flawlessly work in conjunction with HTML. It is a user-friendly programming language that works well with Apache web server and MySQL database. Its versatility puts it ahead of its competitors. One of the key things that a developer especially a beginner needs to keep in mind is the security which is often overlooked. Insecure coding leaves behind lots of loopholes that make the site vulnerable and this is what hackers are looking for.

As a developer, security should be your prime area of concern using this all-powerful scripting language. PHP website security involves minimizing errors in coding and installing multiple layers of security in the website. This ensures extra protection for the site even if one layer is breached. This development technique is called principle of redundant safeguarding Defense in Depth and has proved to be extremely successful in safeguarding websites.

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Types of Threats to a PHP Website

Any website which sends and receives information is vulnerable to attacks. To secure a PHP website it is important for you to know the types of attack that your website is likely to face. These attacks can be classified into two broad categories.

  • Minor Attacks – These are mostly human attacks that annoy you, but don’t seriously damage your website. In these types of attacks, hackers performs act such as abusing file storage policy, defamation and carry out campaigns against your website in networking sites. In most cases, they aren’t able to access the source code, but if they are able to do so, they can create severe security issues in the website.
  • Major Attacks – This is the most threatening among the two and is usually carried out by automated programs. These are very dangerous as they use automated scripts and attack you on multiple fronts such as slowing down your site; access the error logs and even manipulating the source code and leaking our sensitive information. These generally come in the form of viruses and worms.

Your goal as a developer is to minimize and ultimately eliminate these attacks. It is the fundamental of securing a website in PHP as you need to fortify your website to first minimize and then eliminate the access of unverified users to the website. Let’s now look at the most common types of PHP security threats and their solutions.

Register_Globals – This is one tool which makes writing PHP applications very easy. Here you will be able to include all variables in your scripts including HTML forms. But this is a potential security risk considering the fact that the setting is located in PHP’s configuration file php.ini. Once turned on unverified users can easily access the website and inject variables into an application. This may result in them gaining administrative access to your website. The solution is to turn register_globals off and in PHP 4.2.0 it is turned off by default. Some argue that this makes development more time consuming, but you can always use PHP Predefined Variables, such as $_REQUEST.

Error Reporting – You can easily diagnose bugs and fix them quickly with the use of this tool, but at the same time it also causes security issues in your website. In fact any hacker can lay his hands on these error files and threaten its security. This can easily be resolved by turning off the display_errors on for the end user’s browser.

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) – Hackers love Cross-site scripting or XSS as they can make inroads into your website and gather data using a fake markup or JavaScript code. They also attract users and to bad links or present a fake login screen and steal their personal information. Disabling JavaScript isn’t an option as numbers of websites use it to cater the request. To corner this threat, you can make use of PHP applications that use form submission, or POST requests and are less vulnerable to such kinds of attacks.

These things kept in mind will allow you to develop and manage a PHP based website securely. Apart from this, there are a lot of PHP security tools available that help you eliminate threats to your website.

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About the Author

Mantra is a Business Consultant & strategic thought leader bridging the divide between technology and client satisfaction. With 12 years of knowledge, innovation and hands-on experience in providing consultations to Startups, ISVs & Agencies who need dedicated development & technology partners. He has also lead to the delivery of countless successful projects.
Blogging is his passion & he shares his expertise here through ValueCoders.. Follow him on Twitter & LinkedIn

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