Tips for PHP Security
December 19, 2019

Tips for PHP Security


While PHP is one of the most popular scripting languages, applications written with it are quite susceptible to attacks. As a developer, it’s your responsibility to protect your PHP security code and applications from potential hackers. 

PHP Security Best Practices

To create the most secure PHP website possible and safeguard your sensitive data, start with these tips.

1. Always Code With Security in Mind

As developers, we tend to use varying tools (e.g. SAST tools) that we don’t fully understand and are under the stress of making a deadline where functionality takes precedence. The problem with this is that we end up introducing security flaws to our applications. 

Frameworks and libraries have helped a lot with those concerns, and using the elements provided by those frameworks properly greatly reduces the risk of attacks.

The obvious drawback is that frameworks themselves are sometimes vulnerable, and when a vulnerability is discovered in a framework, it affects the various applications written with it. It’s critical you know the tools you’re using and be aware of the OWASP top ten vulnerabilities and how to protect your applications against them. Some of the top concerns include:

  • Broken authentication: Flawed implementation of authentication and session management functions.
  • Cross-site scripting (XSS): Storage of untrusted data in a web application without sufficient validation.
  • Broken access control: Failure to enforce restricted user access of specific data.
  • CSRF: an attack that forces an end user to execute unwanted actions on a web application in which they're currently authenticated

The OWASP site offers the full list of risks and recommendations for prevention.

2. Have the Right PHP Infrastructure In Place

Whatever patches and fixes you establish in your system, they won’t do much good if your infrastructure isn’t properly set up. Your infrastructure is likely made up of various tools, containers, load balancers, database servers, cache stores, and more. If they aren’t configured appropriately, if credentials are mismanaged, or if systems are not kept up to date, unauthorized users may gain access to restricted information and data exchanged between the networks could be compromised.

Setting up your network also involves being aware of threats and setting firewalls and other protective measures to minimize the likelihood of them coming to fruition. Some of the risks involve:

  • Unpatched security vulnerabilities
  • Lack of a comprehensive credential management strategy
  • Abuse of user account privileges (IBM found in 2016 that 60% of attacks are carried by insiders)
  • Lack of encryption

3. Maintain PHP Code

PHP is constantly being improved upon, and with each new version comes added security improvements. For this reason, it’s in your best interest to update to the latest version of PHP for your PHP security. Using an older version means you’ll stop receiving support over time — typically after two years — and you won’t be able to apply critical security patches and bug fixes to your application. 

As I mentioned, code written within PHP is inherently vulnerable; there is always a door for a hacker with enough time, money, and resources to find their way in. This means your code must be as bulletproof as possible. With version updates come required changes to your code that add layers of protection and reduce the chance of an attack. 

4. Educate and Train All Employees

While total prevention is impossible, understanding how your systems work and their vulnerabilities will allow you to not only mitigate them, but respond to any attacks that do occur before they become worse. Educate your team on common threats, as well as proper PHP development and deployment habits that will keep your web applications secure — not just today, but in the long term.    

Keeping data secure should be an organization-wide effort. After all, it’s not just technical attacks that can occur; social engineering can take place in various forms as well. Social engineering involves manipulation on the part of an attacker to gain access to confidential and sensitive information. Hackers may contact an employee outside of your IT department, via phone or email, to request access to certain internal materials by impersonating someone else. Through formal security training, you can educate all members of your staff on the appropriate actions to take in such situations. 

Frequently Asked PHP Security Questions

From a security standpoint, finding good information on PHP security-related questions can be hard. This section looks at a few of the more commonly asked questions for PHP security.

Is PHP Secure?

PHP is as secure as any other programming language. But, just like any other language, it requires programmers to write and engineer secure applications.

How Do I Protect a PHP File?

The method required for protecting a PHP file varies depending on the location and function of the PHP file. For basic file system protection, most servers allow developers to set permissions on a file by file, or directory-wide basis.

What Is SQL Injection in PHP?

SQL injection in PHP is a common code injection technique used to disable, or place malicious code within an SQL database. Because PHP applications frequently use SQL queries to interact with databases, PHP applications are at risk of SQL injection unless proper security measures are taken.

Which Is More Secure, PHP or Python?

No programming language is inherently secure. The argument for PHP security vs Python security, for example, largely boils down to language maturation. The bottom line is that application security is largely dependent on the code written for that application.

An Added Layer of PHP Security With Long-Term Support

Keeping your PHP web applications secure is an ongoing effort. Zend Server offers extended enterprise PHP support, including 24/7/365 phone support, bug fixes, and PHP security updates. Request a quote and speak with an expert to learn more.