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PHP Security Leading Practice

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Global Variables

One does not need to explicitly create "global variables." This is done via the php.ini file by setting the "register_globals" function on. register_globals has been disabled by default since PHP 4.1.0

Include directives in PHP can be vulnerable if register_globals is enabled.


include "$dir/script/dostuff.php";

With register_globals enabled the $dir variable can be passed in via the query string:


This would result in the $dir being set to:


include "";


Appending global variables to the URL may be a way to circumvent authentication:




If this page was requested with register_globals enabled, using the following parameter ?authorised=1 in the query string the athentication function assumes the user is authorised to proceed. Without register_globals enabled, the variable $authorised would not be affected by the $authorised=1 parameter.


When reviewing PHP code, make sure you can see the initialization value is in a "secure default" state.

For example $authorised = false;

Error handling

If possible check if one has turned off error reporting via php.ini and if "error_reporting" off. It is prudent to examine if E_ALL is enabled, this ensures all errors and warnings are reported. display_errors should be set to off in production

File Manipulation

allow_url_fopen is enabled by default in PHP.ini This allows URLs to be treated like local files. URLs with malicious scripting may be included and treated like a local file.

Files in the document root

At times one must have include files in the document root, and these *.inc files are not to be accessed directly. If this is the case, and during the review you find such files in the root, then examine httpd.conf. For example:

   Order allow, deny
   deny from all

HTTP request Handling

The Dispatch method is used as a "funnel" wherein all requests are passed through it. One does not access other PHP files directly, but rather via the dispatch.php. This could be akin to a global input validation class wherein all traffic passes.

Relating to security, it is leading practice to implement validation at the top of this file. All other modules required can be include or require and in a different directory.

Including a method

If a dispatch.php method is not being used, look for includes at the top of each php file. The include method may set a state such that the request can proceed.

It may be a good idea to check out PHP.ini and look for the auto_prepend_file directive. This may reference an automatic include for all files.

Positive input validation

Input validation: strip_tags(): Removes any HTML from a String nl2br(): Converts new line characters to HTML break "br" htmlspecialchars():Convert special characters to HTML entities

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