PHP Development Approaches for Your Web App Security by Anastasia Stefanuk

The most common threats that target web applications are user attacks, DOS-attacks, and getting unauthorized database access. Does the current state of financial, governmental, and e-commerce security mean PHP developers don’t pay enough attention to and attack threats? While most PHP web development specialists don’t skip security testing, the practices used to ensure security are outdated. This post will provide you with WPA security tips that come in handy when you hire PHP developer teams. 

While web applications modern users love web applications, security is a major pain point developers should be aware of. Studies on WPAs prove that none are vulnerability-free. According to the Tech Republic, 85% of examined web applications were not protected from cross-site scripting attacks. 

Top PHP Web Application Security Vulnerabilities

To get a better understanding of the best ways to protect the WPA from a third-party attack, it’ a part of PHP developer jobs to know which attacks are most widespread. Here are the most common security problems web applications are affected by. 

1. Cross-site scripting attacks

The goal of an XSS attack is to be able to execute foreign code on the victim’s website. 

Cross-site scripting refers to a type of attacks which presumes that a third-party injects an external script into the website’s source code. Malicious code is often masked as a reputable script. 

Cross-site scripting attacks give hackers access to cookie files, user session data, and other sensitive information. It will also enable third-party session hijacking.

2. SQL injections

An SQL injection aims to provoke unconsented actions of an SQL parser by injecting it with challenging-to-process queries.

Injections are a specific pain point for PHP-based web applications. Such attacks are executed by compromising SQL queries website managers often use to process user data. The danger of injections lies in the fact that a single malicious query can compromise the activity of a WPA. 

Now, a PHP developer for hire might be wondering how to distinguish a genuine username from an injection. It’s worth keeping in mind that, to disrupt the system, an attacker uses symbols uncommon for passwords or user names.

A few examples pf malicious SQL queries are $username or ‘username’

The use of the $ sign or the apostrophe might force the system to parse the query in an unintended way. 

3. CSRF attacks

A CSRF attack is conducted by sending requests from the accounts of registered users. 

While having similarities, CSRF attacks different from cross-site scripting. The scope of a cross-site request forgery attack is limited compared to an XSS one. However, the damage it can cause includes transferring files and money or changing user data. 

The good news is, a CSRF attack is always aimed at a particular action. Unlike cross-site scripting, after a request forgery, a hacker will not be able to freely manipulate the web application. 

5 Best Practices to Protect a Web Application

Security is a pressing issue for PHP developers and business managers. Despite its popularity and a broad toolkit, the programming language has security openings and vulnerabilities. Also, as PHP empowers one of the biggest existing CMS’ - WordPress, attackers are highly focused on coming up with new threats. 

If you want to protect a web application from sophisticated security attacks, consider implementing the following web app PHP development practices:

1. Regularly update the PHP version

The good news, the PHP development team usually implements security fixes and releases new patches in each subsequent version of the language. Also, while hackers have learned to exploit the weakness of PHP 5.6, they would be more challenged to conduct an attack that would affect the current 7.3.3 release. 

Clinging to the old version of the language will eventually result in code deprecations. Also, the newest PHP release is 3-4 times faster compared to the older versions. You will be able to improve search engine rankings and retention rates. 

2. Install an SSL certificate

An SSL certificate is still one of the most proven PHP development ways to protect a web application from intrusions. Earlier, the protocol was used by financial services providers to ensure secure transactions. Later, Google and other search engines placed a huge emphasis on SSL implementation, and it has become a universal practice all over the web. 

The SSL certificate provides web applications with an additional layer of encryption. This way, sensitive user information is not displayed in plain text when it’s transferred from the browser to the server. 

To install an SSL-certificate, a company owner has to pay around $70-199 per year. For most web applications, such an investment overweighs the cost of the damage in case of a web app security breach. 

3. Don’t ignore data validation

When a web application’s security is on the line, data credibility should not be taken for granted. Unfortunately, a freelance PHP developer is often careless when it comes to validating configuration files or server environment data. 

Being a PHP developer means having to understand that missing out on filtering and validation increases the odds of intrusions. Even if the data source is trusted (the server, GET, POST, etc.), take your time to validate it. The good news is, there are more than a handful of libraries for most common PHP frameworks:

4. Avoid using sensitive information in HTTP headers

PHP lists the version number for all websites it empowers by default. However, if you want to increase the WPA’s security, hire a PHP developer that will remove it from HTTP headers. This way, a hacker will not be able to exploit the vulnerabilities of the PHP version the web application uses. 

Before removing the version number or any other sensitive data, examine the information sent to the header from the server.

To hide the Apache server information, access configuration files or set up the Server Token Directive. To hide the PHP version number, change the ‘expose’ attribute to ‘off’ in the configuration files. 

5. Implement Content Security Policy

Content Security Policy (otherwise known as CSP) is a powerful antidote from XSS and injection attacks. It works by controlling the origins of all content a website user loads. To implement a content security policy, a dedicated PHP developer has to specify the white list of sources. Usually, it looks the following way:

  • Scripts;
  • Stylesheets;
  • Images from the local server and jQuery libraries
  • HTTP headers. 

The next step in configuring a working CSP system is by delivering directives. Depending on the software you use, the action might be approached differently. 

Keep in mind that the CSP implementation is more time-consuming for older web apps. After you have the working policy, your WPA will be well-protected against XSS attacks and SQL injections. 

Conclusion

Despite the common misconception that PHP is not a secure language, the truth is, it’s protection mechanism are similar to those of alternatives. The issue is, PHP is a widely used language thanks to high functionality and a moderate PHP developer salary. That’s why it’s also extensively researched by hackers and frequently attacked. 

Some of the PHP Web Application security problems tend to resolve with new patches or security releases. Others require careful day-to-day monitoring and uninterrupted attention. By having a regular update schedule, SSL-proofing your WPA, not missing out on data validation, not sharing sensitive information publicly, and adopting a content security policy, you will be able to create a working protection system. 

This PHP development approach makes a WPA challenging to attack. The damage a hypothetical attack can bring along will reduce to zero.


About the Author:

Anastasia Stefanuk is a passionate writer and a marketing manager at Mobilunity. The company provides professional staffing services, so she is always aware of technology news and wants to share her experience to help tech startups and companies to be up-to-date.

November 18, 2019
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