GnuPG Encryption with PHP

I found PHP’s documentation on the GnuPG functions to be pretty sparse, so thought I would share some specific steps that I went though in order to get everything working.

Prerequisites

First off, you have to install the GnuPG PHP libraries through pecl. It requires the GnuPG Made Easy (gpgme) packages to get working. The following shell commands will install the OS packages, install the GnuPG PHP libraries, then enable the PHP extension and restart Apache:

# apt-get install gnupg gpgme gpgme-devel

# pecl install gnupg

# echo extension=gnupg.so > /etc/php.d/gnupg.ini

# apachectl restart

Creating GnuPG Keys

Next, you need to create a set of keys to encrypt and decrypt your data. You’ll need to put the keys somewhere where the webserver can read and write to a directory. I’ll use /var/www/.gnupg since that is the default home directory for many Apache installations. After running the gpg command, answer the questions as prompted. User input is red in the output shown below.

# mkdir -p /var/www/.gnupg

# gpg --homedir /var/www/.gnupg --gen-keygpg
WARNING: unsafe permissions on homedir `/tmp/keys'

gpg (GnuPG) 1.4.5; Copyright (C) 2006 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
This program comes with ABSOLUTELY NO WARRANTY.
This is free software, and you are welcome to redistribute it
under certain conditions. See the file COPYING for details.
gpg: keyring `/tmp/keys/secring.gpg' created
gpg: keyring `/tmp/keys/pubring.gpg' created
Please select what kind of key you want:
   (1) DSA and Elgamal (default)
   (2) DSA (sign only)
   (5) RSA (sign only)
Your selection? 1
DSA keypair will have 1024 bits.
ELG-E keys may be between 1024 and 4096 bits long.
What keysize do you want? (2048) 2048
Requested keysize is 2048 bits
Please specify how long the key should be valid.
         0 = key does not expire
      <n>  = key expires in n days
      <n>w = key expires in n weeks
      <n>m = key expires in n months
      <n>y = key expires in n years
Key is valid for? (0) 10y
Key expires at Fri Feb 23 16:35:14 2018 PST
Is this correct? (y/N) y
You need a user ID to identify your key; the software constructs the user ID
from the Real Name, Comment and Email Address in this form:
    "Heinrich Heine (Der Dichter) <heinrichh@duesseldorf.de>"
Real name: Some User
Email address: some@user.com
Comment: This is a key for Some User
You selected this USER-ID:
    "Some User (This is a key for Some User) <some@user.com>"
Change (N)ame, (C)omment, (E)mail or (O)kay/(Q)uit? o
You need a Passphrase to protect your secret key. Enter your passphrase here
We need to generate a lot of random bytes. It is a good idea to perform
some other action (type on the keyboard, move the mouse, utilize the
disks) during the prime generation; this gives the random number
generator a better chance to gain enough entropy.
gpg: /tmp/keys/trustdb.gpg: trustdb created
gpg: key 21CCC3D6 marked as ultimately trusted
public and secret key created and signed.
.... a bunch of random characters here....
gpg: checking the trustdb
gpg: 3 marginal(s) needed, 1 complete(s) needed, PGP trust model
gpg: depth: 0  valid:   1  signed:   0  trust: 0-, 0q, 0n, 0m, 0f, 1u
gpg: next trustdb check due at 2018-02-24
pub   1024D/21CCC3D6 2008-02-27 [expires: 2018-02-24]
      Key fingerprint = FA45 1EE9 8772 70EF 1CFA  99CE 048A 6139 21CC C3D6
uid                  Some User (This is a key for Some User) <some@user.com>
sub   2048g/A83E754B 2008-02-27 [expires: 2018-02-24]
#chown -R apache:apache /var/www/.gnupg

Make note of the key fingerprint in the 4th from the bottom line. You’ll need this in your PHP code when referencing the key. Also, make sure that you write down your pass phrase somewhere. Your encrypted data will be useless if you don’t have the pass phrase.

Your Application

Now you can write your PHP code that will do the encryption. Here is a sample that encrypts, then decrypts something:

<?php
$CONFIG['gnupg_home'] = '/var/www/.gnupg';
$CONFIG['gnupg_fingerprint'] = 'FA451EE9877270EF1CFA99CE048A613921CCC3D6';

$data = 'this is some confidential information';

$gpg = new gnupg();
putenv("GNUPGHOME={$CONFIG['gnupg_home']}");
$gpg->seterrormode(GNUPG_ERROR_SILENT);
$gpg->addencryptkey($CONFIG['gnupg_fingerprint']);
$encrypted =  $this->gpg->encrypt($data);
echo "Encrypted text: \n<pre>$encrypted</pre>\n";

// Now you can store $encrypted somewhere.. perhaps in a MySQL text or blob field.

// Then use something like this to decrypt the data.
$passphrase = 'Your_secret_passphrase';
$gpg->adddecryptkey($CONFIG['gnugp_fingerprint'], $passphrase);
$decrypted = $gpg->decrypt($encrypted);

echo "Decrypted text: $decrypted";
?>

It would be best to store $passphrase somewhere completely separate from your application configuration. Perhaps an admin user would be required to enter the passphrase when looking up this information. That way your passphrase is not stored in your config file or anywhere that an attacker could potentially gain access to it.

Troubleshooting

Make sure that the web server can write to the GnuPG Home directory. This obviously is not ideal, but seems to be required in the testing that I have done. I’ve been able to set ‘secring.gpg’ to be owned by root, but that does little good since the directory it is in has to be writable.

You can raise the error mode to GNUPG_ERROR_WARNING to generate PHP warnings on GnuPG errors. That might help to track down where errors are occurring