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<?php
// $Id$
$_SERVER['BASE_PAGE'] = 'security-note.php';
include_once $_SERVER['DOCUMENT_ROOT'] . '/include/prepend.inc';
site_header("A Note on Security in PHP", array("current" => "docs"));
?>
<h1>A Note on Security in PHP</h1>
<p>
PHP is a powerful and flexible tool. This power and flexibility comes
from PHP being a very thin framework sitting on top of dozens of distinct
3rd-party libraries. Each of these libraries have their own unique input
data characteristics. Data that may be safe to pass to one library may
not be safe to pass to another.
</p>
<p>
A recent Web Worm known as NeverEverSanity exposed a mistake in the input
validation in the popular phpBB message board application. Their
highlighting code didn't account for double-urlencoded input correctly.
Without proper input validation of untrusted user data combined with any
of the PHP calls that can execute code or write to the filesystem you
create a potential security problem. Despite some confusion regarding the
timing of some unrelated PHP security fixes and the NeverEverSanity worm,
the worm didn't actually have anything to do with a security problem in
PHP.
</p>
<p>
When we talk about security in a web application we really have two
classes. Remote and Local. Every remote exploit can be avoided with very
careful input validation. If you are writing an application that asks for
a user's name and age, check and make sure you are only getting characters
you would expect. Also make sure you are not getting too much data that
might overflow your backend data storage or whatever manipulation
functions you may be passing this data to. A variation of the remote
exploit is the XSS or cross-site scripting problem where one user enters
some javascript that the next user then views.
</p>
<p>
For Local exploits we mostly hear about open_basedir or safemode problems
on shared virtual hosts. These two features are there as a convenience to
system administrators and should in no way be thought of as a complete
security framework. With all the 3rd-party libraries you can hook into
PHP and all the creative ways you can trick these libraries into accessing
files, it is impossible to guarantee security with these directives. The
Oracle and Curl extensions both have ways to go through the library and
read a local file, for example. Short of modifying these 3rd-party
libraries, which would be difficult for the closed-source Oracle library,
there really isn't much PHP can do about this.
</p>
<p>
When you have PHP by itself with only a small set of extensions safemode
and open_basedir are generally enough to frustrate the average bad guy,
but for critical security situations you should be using OS-level security
by running multiple web servers each as their own user id and ideally in
separate jailed/chroot'ed filesystems. Better yet, use completely
separate physical servers. If you share a server with someone you don't
trust you need to realize that you will never achieve airtight security.
</p>
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