How MCommunity Works

In my last post, I briefly mentioned that I thought MCommunity was sitting on a pretty nice JSON API. Today, I’ll be covering some of the endpoints that I mentioned and what the data looks like when it comes back. I’m writing this not because it was particularly difficult to figure out – anyone with a web browser can do it quickly with the developer tools – but because I enjoyed getting a glimpse into how the service was structured.

When I first looked at it, MCommunity had an endpoint that the Javascript was POSTing to to get details about who was logged in.
Doing a GET to https://mcommunity.umich.edu/mcPeopleService/private/people/getAuthorization/dummy will give a few details about the user who is currently signed in. For instance, when I am signed in, mine looks like:

{
    "authcheck": {
        "errors": "",
        "authStatus": true,
        "displayName": "David Thomas Wilemski Jr",
        "dn": "uid=dtwilems,ou=people,dc=umich,dc=edu",
        "elevatedStatus": false,
        "uniqname": "dtwilems"
    }

}

Note: They’ve since stopped using the “dummy” signifier in place of some sort of numerical ID; My guess is that it was an attempt to change that endpoint per session so it wouldn’t be so easy to call. However, “dummy” still works as does any integer – and most strings too. Maybe it was changed for some other reason, I guess I’ll never know.

As you can see, this is very useful information when exploiting XSS. It tells you exactly which user is currently authenticated. While the XSS vulnerability was still present, I could have written a script to notify me when someone viewed my profile and tell me exactly who was viewing it. Furthermore, because the script would have been executing in the context of the other user, it could have used the next endpoint that I’ll be discussing to ask for all of a user’s personal information that is stored in MCommunity and send that to a malicious attacker. That’s some serious analytics.

The next endpoint gives information for a uniqname based on who the user asking for it is. For instance, the URL:
https://mcommunity.umich.edu/mcPeopleService/private/people/dtwilems
gives info on me! Here is what I see when I view the page:

{
    "person": {
        "distinguishedName": "uid=dtwilems,ou=people,dc=umich,dc=edu",
        "errors": "",
        "aboutMeView": 2,
        "acl": [
            "3#entry#ou=People,dc=umich,dc=edu#drink",
            "3#entry#ou=People,dc=umich,dc=edu#umichAltPhone",
            "3#entry#ou=People,dc=umich,dc=edu#umichAltAddress"
        ],
        "affiliation": [
            "College of Engineering - Faculty and Staff",
            "CoE-IT - Faculty and Staff",
            "Undergraduate Engineering - Student",
            "Alumni"
        ],
        "aliases": [
            "David Thomas Wilemski",
            "David Wilemski Jr",
            "David Wilemski",
            "David T Wilemski",
            "David Thomas Wilemski Jr"
        ],
        "altAddressView": 1,
        "altPhoneView": 1,
        "associatedDomain": "engin.umich.edu",
        "displayName": "David Thomas Wilemski Jr",
        "drink": "Cranberry Juice",
        "email": "dtwilems@umich.edu",
        "emailForwarding": [
            "dtwilems@mail.umich.edu",
            "dtwilems.umich@gmail.com",
            "dtwwtd@gmail.com"
        ],
        "faxPhoneView": 2,
        "ferpa": "N",
        "homeAddressView": 2,
        "homePhoneView": 2,
        "imView": 2,
        "mobilePhone": "------MY CELL NUMBER-------",
        "mobilePhoneView": 2,
        "noticeView": 2,
        "pagerPhoneView": 2,
        "permanentAddress": "-------PLACE WHERE I LIVE--------",
        "spamFilter": "TRUE",
        "title": "Student, Undergraduate Engineering",
        "uniqname": "dtwilems",
        "urlView": 2,
        "vacationView": 2
    }
}

 

However, if I call the API for someone else’s info then it only returns information that they have marked as public. Well, actually, you can mark things as public, or just viewable to logged in users (auth), or private (self). They actually return information structured pretty well, and as we’ll see, I’ve since discovered more API endpoints like these – but first I’d like to talk about the last endpoint that I used while digging around with the XSS exploit.

This is the one that really made things go. POSTing to this with the correct variables and a valid cookie will update a profile:

https://mcommunity.umich.edu/mcPeopleService/private/people/updateContact

This is the one that could have helped to cause the MySpace worm of MCommunity – if I was evil. Instead, I reported it like any upstanding Michigan community member would have. :D

Conclusion

So, like I said, the MCommunity site has a nice API. As a matter of fact, Bryan and I have just discovered some various WADL files that describe additional endpoints. I’ll list the ones we know about out now for some of you curious folk:

  • https://mcommunity.umich.edu/mcPeopleService/
  • https://mcommunity.umich.edu/mcDirectoryMessages/
  • https://mcommunity.umich.edu/mcGroupService/

What would I like to see MCommunity do with its API? Open it up! I mean, we’re a top computer science school for crying out loud! I think that the students and alumni here could do some truly amazing things if this were to be opened up and documented a little better. Actually, this is something I think that the entire University could do better. Initiatives like the Mobile Center are great but the applications that they put out are still purely proprietary. In fact, their APIs page has had basically a “coming soon” message on it for over a year now.

As it is, any student who wants to build a mobile or web application related to the University is usually forced to revert to lame attempts at scraping a web page for information and other gross, hackish things in order to get functionality out of their application. I’ve experienced this first hand with both Umich Dining and MSchedule. We actually found computer readable formats for both of those applications but not without some exploring first. The data feeds aren’t advertised in any way and I think that they need to be. I’ve heard very similar stories over and over from other students who have tried to build some Michigan specific application at a hackathon or for other purposes and, honestly, it gets frustrating.

I will say that it seems that the University is getting better at trying to support development here on campus – we’re just not quite there yet. If anyone who works for the University who can help move this along is reading, just know that you’re moving in the right direction – we just want you to get there faster!

Also, us MSchedule developers would like to be able to register users for classes so as to create a much better user experience. Pipe dreams, we know…

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