How To Install and Secure phpMyAdmin on Ubuntu 18.04

How To Install and Secure phpMyAdmin on Ubuntu 18.04

Topic — Install phpMyAdmin on Ubuntu 18.04

PhpMyAdmin is the most popular web-based database administration software. It is widely used to manage MySQL and MariaDB databases due to its easy-to-use and intuitive interface. Since the phpMyAdmin interface is accessible via a web browser, malicious users often target their attacks on this software. Attacks range from brute-forcing passwords to DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks.

phpMyAdmin was created so that users can interact with MySQL through a web interface. In this guide, we’ll discuss how to install and secure phpMyAdmin so that you can safely use it to manage your databases on an Ubuntu 18.04 system.

Prerequisites

Before you get started with this guide, you need to have some necessary steps completed.

First, we’ll assume that your server has a non-root user with sudo privileges, as well as a firewall configured with,ufw as described in the initial server setup guide for Ubuntu 18.04.

We’re also going to assume that you’ve completed a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) installation on your Ubuntu 18.04 server. If this is not completed yet, you can follow this guide on installing a LAMP stack on Ubuntu 18.04.

Since PhpMyAdmin is a widely-deployed PHP application which is frequently targeted for attack, you should never run phpMyAdmin on remote systems over a plain HTTP connection. If you do not have an existing domain configured with an SSL/TLS certificate, you can follow this guide on securing Apache with Let’s Encrypt on Ubuntu 18.04.

Once you are finished with these steps, you’re ready to get started with this guide.

Step 1 — Installing phpMyAdmin

To get started, we will install phpMyAdmin from the default Ubuntu repositories.

This is done by updating your server’s package index and then using the apt packaging system to pull down the files and install them on your system:

sudo apt update
sudo apt install phpmyadmin php-mbstring php-gettext

This will ask you a few questions to configure your installation correctly.

Warning: When the prompt appears, “apache2” is highlighted, but not selected. If you do not hit SPACE to select Apache, the installer will not move the necessary files during installation. Hit,SPACETAB, and then ENTER to select Apache.

  • For the server selection, choose apache2
  • Select Yes when asked whether to use dbconfig-common to set up the database
  • You will then be asked to choose and confirm a MySQL application password for phpMyAdmin

The installation process adds the phpMyAdmin Apache configuration file into the directory/etc/apache2/conf-enabled/, where it is read automatically. The only thing you need to do is explicitly enable the mbstring PHP extension, which you can do by typing:

sudo phpenmod mbstring

Afterward, restart Apache for your changes to be recognized:

sudo systemctl restart apache2

phpMyAdmin is now installed and configured. However, before you can log in and begin interacting with your MySQL databases, you will need to ensure that your MySQL users have the privileges required for interacting with the program.

Step 2 — Adjusting User Authentication and Privileges

When you installed phpMyAdmin onto your server, it automatically created a database user called which performsphpmyadmin specific underlying processes for the program. Rather than logging in as this user with the administrative password you set during installation, it’s recommended that you log in as either your root MySQL user or as a user dedicated to managing databases through the phpMyAdmin interface.

Configuring Password Access for the MySQL Root Account

In Ubuntu systems running MySQL 5.7 (and later versions), the root MySQL user is set to authenticate using the pluginauth_socket by default rather than with a password. This allows for some greater security and usability in many cases, but it can also complicate things when you need to allow an external program — like phpMyAdmin — to access the user.

To log in to phpMyAdmin as your root MySQL user, you will need to switch its authentication method from auth_socket to mysql_native_password if you haven’t already done so. To do this, open up the MySQL prompt from your terminal:

sudo mysq

Next, check which authentication method each of your MySQL user accounts use with the following command:

SELECT user,authentication_string,plugin,host FROM mysql.user;
Output
+------------------+-------------------------------------------+-----------------------+-----------+
| user             | authentication_string                     | plugin                | host      |
+------------------+-------------------------------------------+-----------------------+-----------+
| root             |                                           | auth_socket           | localhost |
| mysql.session    | *THISISNOTAVALIDPASSWORDTHATCANBEUSEDHERE | mysql_native_password | localhost |
| mysql.sys        | *THISISNOTAVALIDPASSWORDTHATCANBEUSEDHERE | mysql_native_password | localhost |
| debian-sys-maint | *8486437DE5F65ADC4A4B001CA591363B64746D4C | mysql_native_password | localhost |
| phpmyadmin       | *5FD2B7524254B7F81B32873B1EA6D681503A5CA9 | mysql_native_password | localhost |
+------------------+-------------------------------------------+-----------------------+-----------+
5 rows in set (0.00 sec)

In this example, you can see that the root user does authenticate using the auth_socket plugin. To configure the root account to authenticate with a password, run the following commandALTER USER. Be sure to change password to a strong password of your choosing:

ALTER USER 'root'@'localhost' IDENTIFIED WITH mysql_native_password BY 'password';

Then, run FLUSH PRIVILEGES which tells the server to reload the grant tables and put your new changes into effect:

FLUSH PRIVILEGES;

Check the authentication methods employed by each of your users again to confirm that root no longer authenticates using the auth_socket plugin:

SELECT user,authentication_string,plugin,host FROM mysql.user;
Output
+------------------+-------------------------------------------+-----------------------+-----------+
| user             | authentication_string                     | plugin                | host      |
+------------------+-------------------------------------------+-----------------------+-----------+
| root             | *DE06E242B88EFB1FE4B5083587C260BACB2A6158 | mysql_native_password | localhost |
| mysql.session    | *THISISNOTAVALIDPASSWORDTHATCANBEUSEDHERE | mysql_native_password | localhost |
| mysql.sys        | *THISISNOTAVALIDPASSWORDTHATCANBEUSEDHERE | mysql_native_password | localhost |
| debian-sys-maint | *8486437DE5F65ADC4A4B001CA591363B64746D4C | mysql_native_password | localhost |
| phpmyadmin       | *5FD2B7524254B7F81B32873B1EA6D681503A5CA9 | mysql_native_password | localhost |
+------------------+-------------------------------------------+-----------------------+-----------+
5 rows in set (0.00 sec)

You can see from this output that the root user will authenticate using a password. You can now log in to the phpMyAdmin interface as your root user with the password you’ve set for it here.

Configuring Password Access for a Dedicated MySQL User

Alternatively, some may find that it better suits their workflow to connect to phpMyAdmin with a dedicated user. To do this, open up the MySQL shell once again:

sudo mysql

Note: If you have password authentication enabled, as described in the previous section, you will need to use a different command to access the MySQL shell. The following will run your MySQL client with regular user privileges, and you will only gain administrator privileges within the database by authenticating:

mysql -u root -p

From there, create a new user and give it a strong password:

CREATE USER 'sammy'@'localhost' IDENTIFIED BY 'password';

Then, grant your new user appropriate privileges. For example, you could grant the user privileges to all tables within the database, as well as the power to add, change, and remove user privileges, with this command:

GRANT ALL PRIVILEGES ON *.* TO 'sammy'@'localhost' WITH GRANT OPTION;

Following that, exit the MySQL shell:

exit

You can now access the web interface by visiting your server’s domain name or public IP address followed by /phpmyadmin:

https://your_domain_or_IP/phpmyadmin

phpadmin login screen

Log in to the interface, either as root or with the new username and password you just configured.

When you log in, you’ll see the user interface, which will look something like this:

phpadmin ui

Now that you’re able to connect and interact with phpMyAdmin, all that’s left to do is harden your systems security to protect it from attackers.

Step 3 — Securing Your phpMyAdmin Instance

Because of its ubiquity, phpMyAdmin is a favorite target for attackers, and you should take extra care to prevent unauthorized access. One of the easiest ways of doing this is to place a gateway in front of the entire application by using Apache’s built-in authentication.htaccess and authorization functionalities.

To do this, you must first enable the use of .htaccess file overrides by editing your Apache configuration file.

Edit the linked file that has been placed in your Apache configuration directory:
sudo nano /etc/apache2/conf-available/phpmyadmin.conf

Add an AllowOverride All directive within the <Directory /usr/share/phpmyadmin> section of the configuration file, like this:

/etc/apache2/conf-available/phpmyadmin.conf
<Directory /usr/share/phpmyadmin>
    Options FollowSymLinks
    DirectoryIndex index.php
    AllowOverride All
    . . .

When you have added this line, save and close the file.

To implement the changes you made, restart Apache:

sudo systemctl restart apache2

Now that you have enabled use.htaccess for your application, you need to create one to implement some security.

For this to be successful, the file must be created within the application directory. You can create the necessary file and open it in your text editor with root privileges by typing:

sudo nano /usr/share/phpmyadmin/.htaccess

Within this file, enter the following information:

/usr/share/phpmyadmin/.htaccess
AuthType Basic
AuthName "Restricted Files"
AuthUserFile /etc/phpmyadmin/.htpasswd
Require valid-user

Here is what each of these lines means:

  • AuthType Basic: This line specifies the authentication type that you are implementing. This type will implement password authentication using a password file.
  • AuthName: This sets the message for the authentication dialog box. You should keep this generic so that unauthorized users won’t gain any information about what is being protected.
  • AuthUserFile: This sets the location of the password file that will be used for authentication. This should be outside of the directories that are being served. We will create this file shortly.
  • Require valid-user: This specifies that only authenticated users should be given access to this resource. This is what stops unauthorized users from entering.

When you are finished, save and close the file.

The location that you selected for your password file was /etc/phpmyadmin/.htpasswd. You can now create this file and pass it an initial user with the htpasswd utility:

sudo htpasswd -c /etc/phpmyadmin/.htpasswd username

You will be prompted to select and confirm a password for the user you are creating. Afterward, the file is created with the hashed password that you entered.

If you want to enter an additional user, you need to do so without the -c flag, like this:

sudo htpasswd /etc/phpmyadmin/.htpasswd additionaluser

Now, when you access your phpMyAdmin subdirectory, you will be prompted for the additional account name and password that you just configured:
domain_name_or_IP/phpmyadmin

apache auth
After entering the Apache authentication, you’ll be taken to the regular phpMyAdmin authentication page to enter your MySQL credentials. This setup adds a layer of security, which is desirable since phpMyAdmin has suffered from vulnerabilities in the past.

You should now have phpMyAdmin configured and ready to use on your Ubuntu 18.04 server. Using this interface, you can easily create databases, users, tables, etc., and perform the usual operations like deleting and modifying structures and data.

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