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Introduction

While many users need the functionality of a database management system like MySQL, a lot of the time you may find it easier to run commands without dropping to the CLI.

phpMyAdmin was created so that users can interact with MySQL through a web interface.  This guide will walk you through installation and securing a basic phpMyAdmin instance.

Prerequisites

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

You’re going to need to have completed a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) installation on your server. If this is not completed yet, you can follow our guide on installing an LAMP stack here

Finally, there are important security considerations when using software like phpMyAdmin, since it:

  • Communicates directly with your MySQL installation
  • Handles authentication using MySQL credentials
  • Executes and returns results for arbitrary SQL queries

For this reason you will want to setup a domain with a valid SSL certificate once you are done with this installation.

Step 1 – Installing phpMyadmin

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

Start by making sure your package listing are up to date and then install the necessary packages as shown below:

Console

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

This will ask you a few questions in order 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 SPACE, TAB, 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 /etc/apache2/conf-enabled/ directory, 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:

Console

sudo phpenmod mbstring

Afterwards, restart Apache for your changes to be recognized:

Console

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 phpmyadmin which performs certain 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 auth_socket plugin 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.

In order 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 and check which authentication method each of your MySQL user accounts use with the following commands:

Console

sudo mysql
SELECT user,authentication_string,plugin,host FROM mysql.user

The output should look similar to this:

Console

+——————+——————————————-+———————–+———–+

| 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 in fact authenticate using the auth_socket plugin. To configure the root account to authenticate with a password, run the following ALTER USER command. Be sure to change password to a strong password of your choosing:

Console

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:

Console

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:

Console

SELECT user,authentication_string,plugin,host FROM mysql.user;

Once again, your output should be similar to this:

Console

+——————+——————————————-+———————–+———–+

| 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.

Step 3 – Securing the phpMyAdmin Instance

Because of its ubiquity, phpMyAdmin is a popular 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 .htaccess authentication 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:

Console

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:

Console

<Directory /usr/share/phpmyadmin>

    Options FollowSymLinks

    DirectoryIndex index.php

    AllowOverride All

    . . .

 

After adding this line and saving the file, restart Apache:

Console

sudo systemctl restart apache2

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

In order 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:

Console

sudo nano /usr/share/phpmyadmin/.htaccess

Within this file, enter the following information:

Console

AuthType Basic

AuthName “Restricted Files”

AuthUserFile /etc/phpmyadmin/.htpasswd

Require valid-user

Here is what each of these lines mean:

  • 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 actually 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:

Console

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

You will be prompted to select and confirm a password for the user you are creating. Afterwards, 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:

Console

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.

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

Conclusion

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