Citizen Lab Director Ron Deibert was profiled in the Mozilla Foundation’s StoryEngine, which curates stories about Internet leaders and advocates, allowing the impact of their work to be demonstrated to a wider audience. As part of the profile, he gave an interview outlining his work and current projects.
In the profile, Deibert discusses the work of the Citizen Lab in digital security issues that touch on human rights concerns, including Internet censorship, surveillance, and targeted threats against political activists and dissidents.
Deibert said that the identifying signature of the Citizen Lab was its focus on combining methods, including those of computer science and engineering with policy analysis and rights questions.
Asked about a recent success story of this research, Deibert responded by referencing the “Million Dollar Dissident” report. He said: “Singling out a recent success, we recently discovered a United Arab Emirates human rights defender, named Ahmed Mansoor, had his iPhone targeted by an Israeli cyber warfare company, called the NSO Group, that was apparently contracted by the UAE government. We analyzed the SMS messages Mansoor shared with us, and after an intensive investigation done in collaboration with Lookout Inc, we determined that this attack involved NSO Group technology which employs several unpatched vulnerabilities on the iPhone.”
He added, “We did a responsible disclosure to Apple that resulted in patches to iOS, OSX and Safari for all Apple users in September 2016. This was a pretty big impact of our research since it affected about a billion Apple users worldwide, and help disarm a cyber mercenary that was selling its technology to a regime that was abusing human rights.”
He goes on to discuss challenges that emerge in doing research of this kind, and what would constitute a healthy Internet, and the impact of the Mozilla Open Web Fellowships on the Citizen Lab and beyond.