The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto, Canada. Founded (and currently directed by) Professor Ronald Deibert, the Citizen Lab focuses on advanced research and development at the intersection of digital media, global security, and human rights.
A “hothouse” combining the disciplines of political science, sociology, computer science, engineering, and graphic design, the Citizen Lab’s mission is to undertake advanced research and engage in development that monitors, analyses, and impacts the exercise of political power in cyberspace. This mission is executed through collaborative partnerships with research centers, organizations, and individuals around the world, and through a “mixed methods” approach combining technical analysis with intensive field research, qualitative social science, and legal and policy analysis methods.
The Citizen Lab’s ongoing research network includes the Information Warfare Monitor (2002-2012), the OpenNet Initiative, OpenNet.Asia, OpenNet.Eurasia, Psi-Lab, and the Cyber Stewards Program. The Citizen Lab was a founding partner of the Information Warfare Monitor (2002-2012). The Citizen Lab developed the original design of the Psiphon censorship circumvention software, which spun out of the lab into a private Canadian corporation (Psiphon Inc.) in 2008.
Financial support for the Citizen Lab’s research and development 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 Canada Centre for Global Security Studies, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Donner Canadian Foundation, and the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation. The Citizen Lab has benefited by generous donations of software and support from Palantir Technologies and Oculus Info Inc.
The OpenNet Initiative (ONI) is a partnership with The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School and The SecDev Group. The aim of the ONI is to document patterns of Internet censorship and surveillance world wide.
In 2003, thanks to support from the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Institute, the OpenNet Initiative was formed with the Citizen Lab, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and the Advanced Network Research Group at University of Cambridge UK as the founding partners. Ronald Deibert (Toronto), John Palfrey (Harvard), Rafal Rohozinski (Cambridge), and Jonathan Zittrain (Harvard) were (and remain) the co-founders and principal investigators of the ONI. Since 2003, the ONIʼs network has evolved and grown. The Oxford Internet Institute was a contributing partner from 2006-2007. After Rafal Rohozinski moved from Cambridge University to Canada to set up a private think tank, the SecDev Group replaced Cambridge as a core partner.
The ONI has developed extensive regional networks of researchers in the Commonwealth of Independent States (Opennet.Eurasia) and throughout Asia (Opennet.Asia). More than 100 individuals participate in some manner in the ONIʼs testing, research, and analysis.
The ONI published the first global survey of Internet censorship in its edited volume, Access Denied: The Practice and Politics of Internet Filtering, through MIT Press in 2008.
The ONI's second volume, Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights and Rule in Cyberspace, was published through MIT Press in 2010.
The objective of OpenNet.Asia is to engage academic, policy, and civil society stakeholders in the Asian region concerned by surveillance and censorship to build institutional capacity and networked resources to conduct research and public policy advocacy around those issues.
Information Warfare Monitor
The Information Warfare Monitor was a joint project of the Citizen Lab and The SecDev Group, (Ottawa Ontario). The aim of the Information Warfare Monitor was to monitor and analyze the exercise of power in cyberspace. infowar-monitor.net The IWM project was completed in 2012 and is no longer active.
In 2008, the Information Warfare Monitor discovered a surveillance network being operated by Skype and its Chinese Partner, TOM Online, which insecurely and routinely collected, logged, and captured millions of records (including personal information and contact details for any text chat and/or voice calls placed to TOM-Skype users, including those from the Skype platform).
In 2009, after a 10-month investigation, the Information Warfare Monitor discovered and named GhostNet, a suspected cyber-espionage operation, based mainly in the People's Republic of China, which has infiltrated at least 1,295 computers in 103 countries 30% of which were high-value targets, including ministries of foreign affairs, embassies, international organizations, news media, and NGOs.
In their 2010 follow-up report, Shadows in the Cloud: Investigating Cyber Espionage 2.0, the Information Warfare Monitor documented a complex ecosystem of cyber espionage that systematically targeted and compromised computer systems in India, the Offices of the Dalai Lama, the United Nations, and several other countries. The investigation recovered a large quantity of stolen documents – including sensitive and classified materials – belonging to government, business, academic, and other computer network systems and other politically sensitive targets.
Having discovered archived copies of the Koobface botnet's infrastructure on a well-known Koobface command and control server, Information Warfare Monitor researchers documented the inner workings of Koobface in their 2010 report, Koobface: Inside a Crimeware Network. Researchers discovered that in just one year, Koobface generated over US$2million in profits.
Psi-Lab was a joint activity of the Citizen Lab and Psiphon Inc, oriented around advanced research of circumvention technologies, threat analysis, and the consideration of political and legal issues surrounding their use in denied environments.
The Citizen Lab was named the winner of the 2010 Vox Libera Award, an award granted by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression to a Canadian individual or organization for outstanding commitment to the principles of free expression.
- Official website
- Ron Deibert's page at CitizenLab
- OpenNet Initiative
- The Information Warfare Monitor
- Everyone's Guide to By-Passing Internet Censorship for Citizens Worldwide
- The SecDev Group
- Tracking GhostNet: Investigating a cyber espionage network
- Access Denied: The Practice and Politics of Internet Filtering Retrieved 2010-11-12
- Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights and Rule in Cyberspace Retrieved 2010-11-12
- Breaching Trust Retrieved 2010-09-11
- Shadows in the Cloud: Investigating Cyber Espionage 2.0 Retrieved 2010-09-11
- Tracking GhostNet Investigating a Cyber Espionage Network Retrieved 2010-09-11
- Koobface: Inside a Crimeware Network Retrieved 2010-11-12
- Meet Koobface, Facebook's evil doppelgänger Retrieved 2010-11-12
- Toronto's Citizen Lab wins press freedom award Retrieved 2010-11-16