The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, Canada. It was founded by Ronald Deibert in 2001. The laboratory studies information controls that impact the openness and security of the Internet and that pose threats to human rights.[1] The organization uses a "mixed methods" approach which combines computer-generated interrogation, data mining, and analysis with intensive field research, qualitative social science, and legal and policy analysis methods. The Citizen Lab was a founding partner of the OpenNet Initiative (2002–2013) and the Information Warfare Monitor (2002–2012) projects. The organization also developed the original design of the Psiphon censorship circumvention software, which was spun out of the Lab into a private Canadian corporation (Psiphon Inc.) in 2008.

Citizen Lab
TypeResearch Laboratory
HeadquartersUniversity of Toronto
Ronald Deibert


In a 2009 report "Tracking GhostNet", researchers uncovered a suspected cyber espionage network of over 1,295 infected hosts in 103 countries between 2007 and 2009, a high percentage of which were high-value targets, including ministries of foreign affairs, embassies, international organizations, news media, and NGOs. The study was one of the first public reports to reveal a cyber espionage network that targeted civil society and government systems internationally.[2]

In Shadows in the Cloud (2010), researchers documented a complex ecosystem of cyber espionage that systematically compromised government, business, academic, and other computer network systems in India, the offices of the Dalai Lama, the United Nations, and several other countries.[3] According to a January 24, 2019 AP News report, Citizen Lab researchers were "being targeted" by "international undercover operatives" for its work on NSO Group.[4]

In Million Dollar Dissident, published in August 2016, researchers discovered that Ahmed Mansoor, one of the UAE Five, a human rights defender in the United Arab Emirates, was targeted with Pegasus software developed by Israeli "cyber war" company NSO Group. Prior to the releases of the report, researchers contacted Apple who released a security update that patched the vulnerabilities exploited by the spyware operators.[5] Mansoor was imprisoned one year later and as of 2021, is still in jail.[6]

Researchers reported in October 2018, that NSO Group surveillance software was used to spy on the "inner circle" of Jamal Khashoggi just before his murder, "are being targeted in turn by international undercover operatives." A Citizen Lab October report revealed that NSO's "signature spy software" which had been placed on the iPhone of Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, one of Khashoggi's confidantes, months before. Abdulaziz said that Saudi Arabia spies used the hacking software to reveal Khashoggi's "private criticisms of the Saudi royal family". He said this "played a major role" in his death.[4][7]

In March 2019, The New York Times reported that Citizen Lab had been a target of the UAE contractor DarkMatter.[8]

In November 2019, Ronan Farrow released the podcast Catch and Kill, an extension of his book of the same name. The first episode includes Farrow's reporting on an instance in which a source of Farrow's was involved in a counter-espionage incident while operatives from Black Cube were targeting Citizen Lab.[9]


Financial support for the Citizen Lab has come from the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Government of Canada, the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Donner Canadian Foundation, the Open Technology Fund, and The Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation. The Citizen Lab has received donations of software and support from VirusTotal, RiskIQ and Cisco’s AMP Threat Grid Team[10][non-primary source needed]


The Citizen Lab has won a number of awards for its work. It is the first Canadian institution to win the MacArthur Foundation’s MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions (2014)[11] and the only Canadian institution to receive a "New Digital Age" Grant (2014) from Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt.[12] Past awards include the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer award (2015),[13] the Canadian Library Association's Advancement of Intellectual Freedom in Canada Award (2013),[14] the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom's Press Freedom Award (2011),[15] and the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression’s Vox Libera Award (2010).[16]


  1. ^ "BPR Interview: Citizens Lab Director Ronald Deibert". Brown Political Review. October 21, 2012. Retrieved January 9, 2016. BPR interviewed Ronald Deibert, director of Citizens Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, an interdisciplinary research organization focusing at the intersection of internet, global security and human rights. They have worked for the office of the Dalai Lama.
  2. ^ Markoff, John (March 28, 2009). "Vast Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 28, 2021.
  3. ^ "Shadows in the Cloud: Investigating Cyber Espionage 2.0". Retrieved March 24, 2014.
  4. ^ a b Satter, Raphael (January 25, 2019). "APNewsBreak: Undercover agents target cybersecurity watchdog". The Seattle Times via AP News. New York. Retrieved January 26, 2019. Updated January 26
  5. ^ Franceschi-Bicchierai, Lorenzo (August 26, 2016). "The 'Million Dollar Dissident' Is a Magnet for Government Spyware". Vice magazine. Archived from the original on October 16, 2020. Retrieved December 28, 2021.
  6. ^ Kirchgaessner, Stephanie (July 23, 2021). "How NSO became the company whose software can spy on the world". The Guardian. Archived from the original on July 23, 2021. Retrieved December 28, 2021.
  7. ^ According to Raphael Satter's January 25 article, Citizen Lab "has drawn attention for its repeated exposés of NSO Group", whose "wares have been used by governments to target journalists in Mexico, opposition figures in Panama and human rights activists in the Middle East".
  8. ^ "A New Age of Warfare: How Internet Mercenaries Do Battle for Authoritarian Governments". The New York Times. March 21, 2019. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  9. ^ Jared Goyette Ronan Farrow launches Catch and Kill podcast: ‘A reservoir of raw material’; Each episode of podcast based on his bestselling book is built on an interview with a subject from the book, combined with audio recorded in real time during the Weinstein investigation 27 November 2019
  10. ^ About Citizen Lab
  11. ^ "MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions: The Citizen Lab". February 19, 2014. Retrieved March 24, 2014.
  12. ^ "Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt Awards Citizen Lab "New Digital Age" Grant". March 10, 2014. Retrieved March 24, 2014.
  13. ^ Release, Press (August 26, 2015). "EFF Announces 2015 Pioneer Award Winners: Caspar Bowden, Citizen Lab, Anriette Esterhuysen and the Association for Progressive Communications, and Kathy Sierra". Electronic Frontier Foundation. Retrieved January 25, 2019.
  14. ^ "The Citizen Lab wins the 2013 CLA Advancement of Intellectual Freedom in Canada Award". February 6, 2013. Archived from the original on March 25, 2014. Retrieved March 24, 2014.
  15. ^ "Citizen Lab Wins the 2011 Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom's Press Freedom Award". May 3, 2011. Retrieved March 24, 2014.
  16. ^ "Canadian Internet Pioneer, The Citizen Lab, Wins Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Vox Libera award". November 15, 2010. Retrieved March 24, 2014.

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