Securing your inputs

GET parameters

If you have a page or a form which reads parameters from the URL (aka GET parameters) like ?cid=1234 or ?action=add, it's important to understand that attackers can somewhat easily deceive privileged users into submitting malicious GET requests by directing the user to an email or website with content like:

<img width="0" height="0" src="https://example.org/civicrm/page?foo=ATTACK" >

This means that we can never trust GET parameters, even if the page has tight permissions or ACLs! A common security vulnerability which arises from insecure GET inputs is reflected XSS, but GET inputs can also find their way into all sort of other sensitive outputs, like SQL queries.

Validating GET parameters

Use the function CRM_Utils_Request::retrieve() to retrieve and validate GET parameters. This works great for simple types like integers. For example:

$cid = CRM_Utils_Request::retrieve('cid', 'Positive');

Here we have specified 'Positive' as the type. The acceptable types can be found in CRM_Utils_Type::validate.

If you find yourself wanting to use the 'String' type, beware that this type offers very little validation and hence almost no protection against attacks. Thus, for strings it's important to add additional validation, as demonstrated in the following example.

$angPage = CRM_Utils_Request::retrieve('angPage', 'String', $this);
if (!preg_match(':^[a-zA-Z0-9\-_/]+$:', $angPage)) {
  CRM_Core_Error::fatal('Malformed return URL');

POST parameters

When accepting POST parameters through forms, it's important to validate the data using the form validation tools provided by CRM_Core_Form.

When saving to the database

Despite the current recommended best-practices, CiviCRM does sanitize some of its inputs. This section describes how.

Input encoding

For almost all inputs which are saved to the database, CiviCRM automatically uses CRM_Utils_API_HTMLInputCoder::encodeInput() to apply a partial encoding for HTML output. This encoding step happens at a low level for inputs passed through the API or the BAO (except for fields noted in CRM_Utils_API_HTMLInputCoder::getSkipFields()). So if you're using the API or the BAO to process your input you don't need to do anything special.

If, for some strange reason, you happen to be writing untrusted data to the database directly with SQL, you should encode this data in a fashion consistent with CRM_Utils_API_HTMLInputCoder::encodeInput().

Note that CRM_Utils_API_HTMLInputCoder::encodeInput() only encodes < and >. It does not encode quotes. This has some special implications for how you should encode your HTML outputs.

Input purification

When accepting untrusted data with rich text (uncommon), pass the data through CRM_Utils_String::purifyHTML to remove XSS.


CiviCRM Implements the PHP Intrusion Detection System to automatically assist in preventing harmful inputs. The PHPIDS system is triggered on all fields. There are standard suite of fields that are excluded and they can be found in the CRM_Core_IDS class. The PHPIDS system scans the submitted content and returns a numerical value as to how dangerous the submitted content is from 0 - 100. Three type of actions can be taken based on the numerical score. Either the content is not saved and a message is given out to the user saying there is suspect content which is known as kick. The next action down is just to present a warning to the user. This indicates to the user that there may be some XSS in the content but the context gets saved to the database. The next step down is that the report is logged in the CiviCRM logs and no message is displayed to the user. The PHPIDS is implemented in a bid to assist in preventing XSS, sqli and other dangerous code being saved in the database. More information on PHPIDS can be found in the documentation. Developers are able to alter the list of Exceptions through hook_civicrm_idsException. Fields can also be altered through the Menu hooks hook_civicrm_xmlMenu and hook_civicrm_alterMenu.