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How can I prevent SQL injection in PHP?

Solved 2 Answers 30 Views PHP

If user input is inserted without modification into an SQL query, then the application becomes vulnerable to SQL injection, like in the following example:

$unsafe_variable = $_POST['user_input']; 

mysql_query("INSERT INTO `table` (`column`) VALUES ('$unsafe_variable')");

That's because the user can input something like value'); DROP TABLE table;--, and the query becomes:

INSERT INTO `table` (`column`) VALUES('value'); DROP TABLE table;--')

What can be done to prevent this from happening?

2 Answers

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Best answer

Use prepared statements and parameterized queries. These are SQL statements that are sent to and parsed by the database server separately from any parameters. This way it is impossible for an attacker to inject malicious SQL.

You basically have two options to achieve this:

Using PDO (for any supported database driver):

$stmt = $pdo->prepare('SELECT * FROM employees WHERE name = :name');

$stmt->execute(array('name' => $name));

foreach ($stmt as $row) {
  // do something with $row
}

Using MySQLi (for MySQL):

$stmt = $dbConnection->prepare('SELECT * FROM employees WHERE name = ?');
$stmt->bind_param('s', $name); // 's' specifies the variable type => 'string'

$stmt->execute();

$result = $stmt->get_result();
while ($row = $result->fetch_assoc()) {
  // do something with $row
}

If you're connecting to a database other than MySQL, there is a driver-specific second option that you can refer to (e.g. pg_prepare() and pg_execute() for PostgreSQL). PDO is the universal option.

Correctly setting up the connection Note that when using PDO to access a MySQL database real prepared statements are not used by default. To fix this you have to disable the emulation of prepared statements. An example of creating a connection using PDO is:

$dbConnection = new PDO('mysql:dbname=dbtest;host=127.0.0.1;charset=utf8', 'user', 'pass');

$dbConnection->setAttribute(PDO::ATTR_EMULATE_PREPARES, false);
$dbConnection->setAttribute(PDO::ATTR_ERRMODE, PDO::ERRMODE_EXCEPTION);

In the above example the error mode isn't strictly necessary, but it is advised to add it. This way the script will not stop with a Fatal Error when something goes wrong. And it gives the developer the chance to catch any error(s) which are thrown as PDOExceptions.

What is mandatory, however, is the first setAttribute() line, which tells PDO to disable emulated prepared statements and use real prepared statements. This makes sure the statement and the values aren't parsed by PHP before sending it to the MySQL server (giving a possible attacker no chance to inject malicious SQL).

Although you can set the charset in the options of the constructor, it's important to note that 'older' versions of PHP (< 5.3.6) silently ignored the charset parameter in the DSN.

Explanation What happens is that the SQL statement you pass to prepare is parsed and compiled by the database server. By specifying parameters (either a ? or a named parameter like :name in the example above) you tell the database engine where you want to filter on. Then when you call execute, the prepared statement is combined with the parameter values you specify.

The important thing here is that the parameter values are combined with the compiled statement, not an SQL string. SQL injection works by tricking the script into including malicious strings when it creates SQL to send to the database. So by sending the actual SQL separately from the parameters, you limit the risk of ending up with something you didn't intend. Any parameters you send when using a prepared statement will just be treated as strings (although the database engine may do some optimization so parameters may end up as numbers too, of course). In the example above, if the $name variable contains 'Sarah'; DELETE FROM employees the result would simply be a search for the string "'Sarah'; DELETE FROM employees", and you will not end up with an empty table.

Another benefit of using prepared statements is that if you execute the same statement many times in the same session it will only be parsed and compiled once, giving you some speed gains.

Oh, and since you asked about how to do it for an insert, here's an example (using PDO):

$preparedStatement = $db->prepare('INSERT INTO table (column) VALUES (:column)');

$preparedStatement->execute(array('column' => $unsafeValue));

Can prepared statements be used for dynamic queries? While you can still use prepared statements for the query parameters, the structure of the dynamic query itself cannot be parametrized and certain query features cannot be parametrized.

For these specific scenarios, the best thing to do is use a whitelist filter that restricts the possible values.

// Value whitelist
// $dir can only be 'DESC' otherwise it will be 'ASC'
if (empty($dir) || $dir !== 'DESC') {
 $dir = 'ASC';
}
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If you're using a recent version of PHP, the mysql_real_escape_string option outlined below will no longer be available (though mysqli::escape_string is a modern equivalent). These days the mysql_real_escape_string option would only make sense for legacy code on an old version of PHP.

You've got two options - escaping the special characters in your unsafe_variable, or using a parameterized query. Both would protect you from SQL injection. The parameterized query is considered the better practice but will require changing to a newer mysql extension in PHP before you can use it.

We'll cover the lower impact string escaping one first.

//Connect
$unsafe_variable = $_POST["user-input"];
$safe_variable = mysql_real_escape_string($unsafe_variable);
mysql_query("INSERT INTO table (column) VALUES ('" . $safe_variable . "')");
//Disconnect

See also, the details of the mysql_real_escape_string function.

To use the parameterized query, you need to use MySQLi rather than the MySQL functions. To rewrite your example, we would need something like the following.

&lt;?php
  $mysqli = new mysqli("server", "username", "password", "database_name");

  // TODO - Check that connection was successful.

  $unsafe_variable = $_POST["user-input"];

  $stmt = $mysqli->prepare("INSERT INTO table (column) VALUES (?)");

  // TODO check that $stmt creation succeeded

  // "s" means the database expects a string
  $stmt->bind_param("s", $unsafe_variable);

  $stmt->execute();

  $stmt->close();

  $mysqli->close();
?>

The key function you'll want to read up on there would be mysqli::prepare.

Also, as others have suggested, you may find it useful/easier to step up a layer of abstraction with something like PDO.

Please note that the case you asked about is a fairly simple one and that more complex cases may require more complex approaches. In particular:

If you want to alter the structure of the SQL based on user input, parameterized queries are not going to help, and the escaping required is not covered by mysql_real_escape_string. In this kind of case, you would be better off passing the user's input through a whitelist to ensure only 'safe' values are allowed through. If you use integers from user input in a condition and take the mysql_real_escape_stringapproach, you will suffer from the problem described by Polynomial in the comments below. This case is trickier because integers would not be surrounded by quotes, so you could deal with by validating that the user input contains only digits. There are likely other cases I'm not aware of. You might find this is a useful resource on some of the more subtle problems you can encounter.

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