A constant refrain for my security reviews of plugins and themes is to sanitize everything. And sometimes my pedantic nature of sanitizing everything leads people to ask me why I don’t trust users.

The short answer is “Because I am one.”

The longer answer is that I believe in three types of users, and I’m aware of their character flaws.

Users

Most people on the internet fall into this category. They know how to log in and check email and read a blog post. Maybe they leave comments, maybe not. These people are the most basic of them all, but that isn’t a bad thing at all. Users do what they want and don’t often think about the consequences, because for them there really are none except saying things they didn’t mean or wanting a comment deleted.

These users are dangerous because they don’t think about what they’re doing. They trust, blindly sometimes, that the websites they visit won’t hurt them. That means that data they input has to be sanitized and validated because they may not realize what they’re doing. They may put a URL in the email field of your comment form, and they should be warned about those things.

You can’t trust the users because they don’t know any better.

Experienced Users

This is actually not the most dangerous category. You might think they would be, because they know enough to be dangerous. Instead, I’ve found these users know enough to be cautious. They know what they don’t know, and they’re careful about what they’re doing. They check six or eight times before they paste in data, and they read error messages. Oh yes, these people. You know them, don’t you? They send screenshots of errors a test out theories before telling you “This is broken.”

We like those people, though you may be wondering what about the experienced users who don’t do the legwork. To me, they’re users. There’s nothing wrong with being a user, but it changes my expectations on what they do and who they are. If someone is experienced, though, they’re going to play with things and that means they might break things when they try to recreate the problems.

You can’t trust the experienced users because they mean well.

Admin Users

These are the users who terrify me the most, and sadly, this is where most WordPress users actually are. Because if you’ve installed your own version of WordPress, you are an admin user. God save your soul. And here’s why they scare me: they have more power the an the experience user but the skill of a user. They’re kind of like toddlers.

This is not meant as an insult. The problem is that, unchecked, they can destroy their own sites. They copy and paste code or content into the post editor. In fact, that’s the biggest problem. Many years ago, my friend John and I spent five days debugging a crash, all because we didn’t know that no one who knew what they were doing would ever enter that data format into a field, and since we were admins, the check was overridden.

You can’t trust the admin users because they have phenomenal cosmic powers.

Trust No One

Not to sound all Fox Mulder on you, trust no one’s data. Especially not your own. Don’t assume you know what you’re doing, that you never typo, that you’re always right. You’re not. No one is. And we don’t trust data because we could be wrong. It’s just that simple.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Well … nice to read your well said words.

  2. Bonus for wp-config.php:

    /**
    * keep sticky fingers away!
    */
    define(‘DISALLOW_FILE_EDIT’,true);

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