Secure PHP Website: One of the lightweight and most popular languages, PHP has been the go-to choice for developers in building web applications. However, even a web application built on PHP is also not safe from the evil eyes of hackers.
There are multiple ways an attacker can intrude on a web application if it is not secured or is not shielded by the best practices of web development.
This blog introduces you to 10 useful ways through which you can secure a PHP website from potential attackers.
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10 ways to secure a PHP website
1. Make a habit to update the latest PHP version
For some people, it might look like quite an obvious suggestion. But let’s admit it; when working on a particular project, we sometimes skip doing this for later.
New PHP versions contain security updates and patches for fixes of known security vulnerabilities. Skipping on the updates can make your project prone to hacking attempts. As of September 2021, the stable version of PHP is 8.0.10.
2. Beware of cross-site scripting attacks
Cross-site scripting, a.k.a. an XSS attack, is performed by injecting malicious code into the website. It has the potential to disrupt the core functionality of your application without any warning.
The attacks work by replacing the original code of the website with a code snippet for stealing data. Using XSS attacks, hackers can gain access to your cookies, sessions, and history.
The breeding ground for cross-site scripting is single and double quote options. The best way to counter this attack is to use HTML special characters & insert ENT_QUOTES in your code. Doing so will purge your application from XSS attacks.
3. Take measures against SQL injection
Another most common hacking mechanism is SQL injection. In this attack, hackers try to gain access to the database by modifying the URL parameters. Another way of executing SQL injection is by altering the data in the web form fields.
Once inside your database, the damage that hackers can do is catastrophic. They can perform several malicious activities, including the deletion of the entire database application.
You can prevent such attacks by sticking to security best practices like – always using parameterized queries. Moreover, practicing PDO queries is not only secure but also structures your queries for efficient processing.
4. Validate the use of input
As seen previously, one of the culprits of XSS attacks is web form fields. Without proper input field validation, hackers can exploit the shortcomings and do some serious damage.
There exist many PHP websites that are still dependent on client-side programming for input validation. For secure reasons, one needs to focus on switching the validation to the server-side so that it can’t be easily bypassed. Developers generally use regex for input validation of data formats such as the date of birth and phone number.
5. Leverage security tools
An array of tools is in the market for testing applications’ security performance by mimicking the hacking activities. These tools will brief you about your application’s security performance and suggest preventive measures to overcome the shortcomings.
The list of some free and reliable testing tools:
- Netsparker – Available in both free and paid versions. The free version is suitable for testing XSS attacks and SQL injection.
- OpenVAS – An open-sourced security testing tool for security performance tuning or conducting any vulnerability test
- Xenotix XSS Exploit Framework – A great tool with a specialization in the prevention of XSS attacks.
6. Avoid CSRF attacks
Cross-site request forgery or CSRF is a type of attack performed by hackers to carry out undesirable actions like gaining complete control, data theft, functional modifications, etc. The attack is initiated when the user clicks on a disguised malicious link sent by the hacker.
To protect yourself from a CSRF attack, you need to use protective measures to strengthen your security. This can be done by using GET requests in your URL to ensure that the non-GET requests only generate the client-side code.
7. Protect your page sessions
There exists another type of attack known as session hijacking. In this attack, the hacker steals the session ID and gains full control over the intended account. In addition, attackers can extend the uptime of the session by sending a request to the server by using the $_SESSION array.
To prevent this menace, it is recommended to always bind your sessions to your actual IP address. This will invalidate any session from unknown IP addresses and immediately let you know about the attempted hacking.
8. Don’t upload your framework files on the server
PHP frameworks are built with a model-view-controller file structure. These are usually large file structures. For simplicity, it is advisable not to upload all the files on the webserver and only upload what’s necessary.
Two types of problems can arise if you decide to upload all the files on the server. One is that it will consume a lot of space, making it bulkier for the webserver to handle. Secondly, uploading all files on the server means giving hackers “one-stop” access to all your files and inspecting your business logic.
9. Always use SSL certification
For end-to-end secure data transmission, you should always rely on SSL certifications in your application. It’s a globally recognized standard protocol. In addition, having an SSL certification almost makes it impossible for hackers to invade your servers.
However, one needs to remember not to use outdated SSL certificates or weak ciphers. Make it a practice to update SSL before they expire. Failing to do so will make your website prone to XSS attacks.
10. Document changelogs
Lastly, document everything. Whether it is a change of SSL certificate or authentication password or any valuable information, make a habit of documenting the changes made to the server.
Following this best practice will prevent unexpected issues like a deprecated password of the MySQL server. Having documentation also serves as a bible of knowledge within the organization for transferring knowledge.
Security is the most crucial parameter for all organizations. Therefore, sticking to outdated security practices is no longer going to work. To secure PHP website from possible hacking attempts, you need to have a comprehensive strategy along with best practices, as mentioned above.
Let us know in the comment section which security best practices you follow to prevent your PHP website from security threats, and let us know if you already adhere to any of the practices mentioned above.