A Linux Admin's Getting Started Guide to Improving PHP Security>

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Running PHP on a Linux web server is a prerequisite for the use of many popular applications such as WordPress, Joomla and Drupal. Linux administrators and web developers must approach PHP with caution, as new vulnerabilities in poorly written and implemented PHP code are abundant and dangerous.

In a recent security incident, hackers were able to add a backdoor to the PHP source code. Although the backdoor mechanism was discovered before it made it into production, the incident serves as the latest reminder of the importance of prioritizing PHP security.

PHP security is inextricably tied to web server security. Because the popular open-source server-side scripting language is often paired with MySQL, PHP compromise can mean a compromise of the accompanying MySQL database, as well as any web applications running on the web server. 

This article will examine how you can configure and run PHP securely to mitigate the risk of attacks and compromise, secure web applications, protect user privacy and maintain a secure and properly functioning Linux web server.

PHP Vulnerabilities Carry Great Risk for Admins

Vulnerabilities in PHP code are a prevalent and serious threat to web server administrators and web application developers. These flaws are often introduced when developers are writing code, either due to a mistake or the inability to anticipate malicious hackers’ ever-evolving techniques. A plethora of vulnerabilities exist in the PHP core – with new security bugs being discovered each month. 

On March 28, 2021, hackers breached the internal PHP Git repository and inserted a backdoor into the PHP source code. Luckily, the malicious code was discovered by Michael Voříšek before it made it into production, and the hack led the PHP team to move source code management operations from its internal Git server to its official GitHub account, which will serve as PHP’s official Git repository going forward. In another PHP security incident that occurred less than three years ago and has yet to be explained today, hackers compromised the official PHP PEAR extensions system website and hosted a backdoored version of the PHP PEAR package manager for almost six months. 

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