In this episode of “PHP Internals News” I chat with Tim Düsterhus (GitHub) about the “Redacting Parameters in Back Traces” RFC.
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- Derick Rethans 0:00
Before we start with this episode, I want to apologize for the bad audio quality. Instead of using my nice mic I managed to use to one built into my computer. I hope you’ll still enjoy the episode.
- Derick Rethans 0:30
Hi, I’m Derick. Welcome to PHP internals news, a podcast dedicated to explaining the latest developments in the PHP language. This is episode 97. Today I’m talking with Tim Düsterhus about Redacting Parameters in Backtraces RFC that he’s proposing. Tim, would you please introduce yourself?
- Tim Düsterhus 0:50
Hi, Derick, thank you for inviting me. I am Tim Düsterhus, and I’m a developer at WoltLab. We are building a web application suite for you to build online communities.
- Derick Rethans 0:59
Thanks for coming on this morning. What is the problem that you’re trying to solve with this RFC?
- Tim Düsterhus 1:05
If everything is going well, we don’t need this RFC. But errors can and will happen and our application might encounter some exceptional situation, maybe some request to an external service fails. And so the application throws an error, this exception will bubble up a stack trace and either be caught, or go into a global exception handler. And then basically, in both cases, the exception will be logged into the error log. If it can be handled, we want to make the admin side aware of the issues so they can maybe fix their networking. If it is unable to be handled because of a programming error, we need to log it as well to fix the bug. In our case, we have the exception in the error log. And what happens next? In our case, we have many, many lay person administrators that run a community for their hobby, they’re not really programmers with no technical expertise. And we also have a strong customers help customers environment. What do those customers do? They grab their error log and post it within our forums in public. Now in our forum, we have the error log with the full stack trace, including all sensitive values, maybe user passwords, if the Authentication Service failed, or something else, that should not really happen. In our case, it’s lay person administrators. But I’m also seeing that experienced developers can make this mistake. I am triaging issues with an open source software written in C. And I’ve sometimes seeing system administrators posting their full core dump, including their TLS certificates there, and they don’t really realize what they have just done. That’s really an issue that affects laypersons, and professional administrators the same. In our case, our application attempts to strip those sensitive information from this backtrace. We have a custom exception handler that scans the full stack face, tries to match up class names and method names e.g. the PDO constructor to scrub the database password. And now recently, we have extended this stripping to also strip anything from parameters that are called password, secret, or something like that. That mostly works well. But in any case, this exception handler will miss sensitive information because it needs to basically guess what parameters are sensitive values and which don’t. And also our exception handler grew very complex because to match up those parameters, it needs to use reflection. And any failures within the exception handler cannot really be recovered from, if the exception handler fails, you’re out of luck.
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