Securing your site

Here are some tips to help you keep your site secure:

Always use HTTPS

With the introduction of the Let's Encrypt project, it's now free to get an SSL certificate for your website, so there's no reason to not use HTTPS to secure all communication with your website.

With their certbot tool, you can completely automate the process of acquiring an SSL certificate and renewing it too. If you're on a host that doesn't give you SSH access to set this up yourself, look them up here to make sure they support Let's Encrypt and ask them to make sure you're using it.

While the use of HTTPS is usually configured at the web server level (e.g., Apache or Nginx), you can enforce HTTPS at the application level in Elefant by adding a bootstrap.php file to the root of your site with the following code:


$controller->force_https ();

Use key-based authentication instead of passwords over SSH

Disabling password-based shell access to your server and using public/private keys instead increases your security because keys are much longer and way harder for someone to crack. Just make sure to keep your private keys safe and backed up, and never share or email them.

Here's a great overview of how to change over to key-based authentication courtesy of DigitalOcean. The first part you only have to do once, and if you're using DigitalOcean's services you simply click on the SSH key to add it to new instances so the entire process becomes one-click easy.

For those not using DigitalOcean, the post also covers how to transfer your public key to your server and install it, how to log in via SSH with your keys, and how to disable password-based authentication once you have it working.

Don't make your database accessible to the internet

Some desktop database management software will connect remotely to your database so you can browse your data and perform common operations on it. We recommend you use a firewall to keep anything but port 22 (SSH) closed on your database server, or ports 22, 80, and 443 (HTTP and HTTPS) if your database lives on the same machine as your web server. UFW is an easy-to-use firewall manager for Linux.

We recommend you dedicate a database exclusively to your site, with credentials that are not shared with other databases, to decrease the likelihood of those credentials being compromised externally as well as the degree of damage someone could do with any given set of credentials in your overall system.

Configure your mime types to be handled correctly

Misconfigured mime types in your web server can be used to make browsers treat non-Javascript files as executable by a web browser, which can be used to trick your site admins into uploading and unknowingly executing an exploit that gives away access to your website.

For example, Elefant provides a file manager that lets admins upload files to your site, which are then served by the web server directly. This exposes a degree of risk if your web server is not properly configured to use the correct mime types for a wide range of file types.

Unknown file extensions should be set to something like application/octet-stream instead of text/plain, so they're not treated as text and potentially as executable Javascript. In Nginx, this would be done using the default_type directive. In Apache, this would be done with the mod_mime module.

Elefant comes with .htaccess files to properly configure individual folders safely if you're using the Apache web server, while Nginx users should copy the contents of the provided nginx.conf file into your Nginx server configuration.

It should also be noted that you should not blindly give out admin access to those you do not trust, and Elefant can be configured to limit access to things like the file manager to only certain admins and not others, or to none at all. However, we leave you to choose the level that best suits your needs.

Note: Similarly, we recommend against using the DB Manager app on any live web site.

Back up your data regularly

It's important to be able to recover, not just from a hack, but from other risks like hardware failures which do happen. Here's a basic shell script you can use along with the s3cmd tool to back your Elefant website up automatically every day.

Use environment variables to inject your app's secrets

Using environment variables instead of hard-coding app secrets like your database credentials ensures your credentials can be stored safely using a tool like Vault and aren't written down in a config file sitting on your web server.

This means that if your web server is compromised, the attacker won't find your database password just lying around. They may still be able to escalate their access, but not without additional effort.

See Environment variables for the list of environment variables Elefant supports for injecting secrets like your database credentials, and how to map them to other environment variable names if others are already defined by your host or container management system.

Containerize your application

Containers offer an additional level of isolation from the surrounding system by putting each container in its own sandboxed environment. Docker is the most popular container format, but others are emerging and standards are forming to make them interoperable across the various container management systems.

Container management is a complex topic and beyond the scope of this page, but there are many tutorials out there about it. However, I'll add that you can find pre-made containers for all of the requirements of a PHP-based app like Element on the Docker Hub directory, and tutorials to help create a Docker configuration for deploying PHP apps.

Next: Troubleshooting

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This documentation was generated by the Elefant Documentation Project. We're always open to new contributions *wink* *wink*