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 organization has played a major role in providing technical support to journalists investigating the use of NSO Group's Pegasus spyware on journalists, politicians and human rights advocates.

Citizen Lab
TypeResearch Laboratory
HeadquartersUniversity of Toronto
Ronald Deibert



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.

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]

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-intelligence firm 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.[4] Mansoor was imprisoned one year later and as of 2021, is still in jail.[5]

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.[6][7]

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.[6]

In January 2019, Citizen Lab invited the Associated Press to help reveal an undercover spy operation targeting reporters at Citizen Lab carried out by the firm Black Cube.[8] Ronan Farrow added to this reporting through interviews with a source of his who was involved in that espionage incident, among others.[9]

In March 2019, The New York Times reported that Citizen Lab had been a target of the UAE contractor DarkMatter.[10]

A major international investigation from 2020-2022 into the use of Pegasus spyware on journalists, politicians and human rights activists around the world relied on Citizen Lab and Amnesty International's Security Lab for technical support.[11]

In 2021, Citizen Lab along with Amnesty International's Security Lab analysed Front Line Defenders' report on the hacking of devices of six Palestinian human rights defenders (two were dual nationals; one French, one American) working for civil society organisations based in the West Bank. Four of the hacked devices used Israeli SIM cards (which NSO Group claimed was not allowed).[12]

In 2023, Citizen Lab found evidence of NSO Group's hacking tool Pegasus in a war setting for the first time[13] as well as in the device of a lead investigator of a Mexican human rights investigation.[14]




  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. ^ 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.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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
  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. ^ "AP Exclusive: Undercover spy exposed in NYC was 1 of many". AP NEWS. February 11, 2019. Retrieved June 18, 2023.
  9. ^ Farrow, Ronan (October 7, 2019). "The Black Cube Chronicles, Part I: The Private Investigators". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved June 18, 2023.
  10. ^ "A New Age of Warfare: How Internet Mercenaries Do Battle for Authoritarian Governments". The New York Times. March 21, 2019. Retrieved March 22, 2019.
  11. ^ Taddonio, Patrice (January 3, 2023). "Journalist Targeted With Pegasus Spyware Speaks Out". FRONTLINE. Retrieved June 18, 2023.
  12. ^ Devices of Palestinian Human Rights Defenders Hacked with NSO Group's Pegasus Spyware (Report). University of Toronto. November 8, 2021.
  13. ^ Kirchgaessner, Stephanie (May 25, 2023). "United Nations official and others in Armenia hacked by NSO Group spyware". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved June 18, 2023.
  14. ^ Sheridan, Mary Beth (June 5, 2023). "He's leading Mexico's probe of the Dirty War. Who's spying on him?". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved June 18, 2023.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ "Citizen Lab wins Canada's 1st $1M MacArthur award". CBC News. February 20, 2014.
  17. ^ "MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions: The Citizen Lab". February 19, 2014. Retrieved March 24, 2014.
  18. ^ "Eric Schmidt gives $1M to 10 nonprofit tech companies". VentureBeat. March 11, 2014. Retrieved June 18, 2023.
  19. ^ Poetranto, Irene (March 10, 2014). "Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt Awards Citizen Lab "New Digital Age" Grant". Retrieved March 24, 2014.
  20. ^ "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.
  21. ^ "Citizen Lab Wins the 2011 Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom's Press Freedom Award". May 3, 2011. Archived from the original on November 29, 2021. Retrieved March 24, 2014.
  22. ^ "Canadian Internet Pioneer, The Citizen Lab, Wins Canadian Journalists for Free Expression Vox Libera award". November 15, 2010. Archived from the original on November 29, 2021. Retrieved March 24, 2014.