I am always interested in welcoming new people and hearing about new ideas. There are plenty of opportunities for interested students and researchers to come and work with me and the rest of the awesome research team at the Citizen Lab. I outline the main categories below and provide some details on these opportunities.
Please note that because of the volume of requests I get, I cannot engage in extensive evaluations of proposals or discussions of research topics with individual students until they are accepted into one of the programs / opportunities outlined below. Please read the following carefully before reaching out to me.
Please also take a look at Main Thematic Research Areas at the end of this post, as I only entertain supervision for students willing to work on projects that build upon topics in one of these main thematic areas.
Graduate Students (Masters and Doctoral)
I am a cross appointed faculty member in the Department of Political Science and the Munk School of Global Affairs, which means that my primary supervision responsibilities are in the area of political science and, broadly speaking, global studies. I have tended to supervise mostly International Relations doctoral students interested in some aspect of information and communication technologies. However, I am also open to supervising and sitting on the committees of students in other areas, such as comparative politics or international law.
Given the unorthodox nature of my research, I have also helped supervise or sat on the committees of doctoral students outside of political science, including computer science, law, and engineering. However, I am not a trained lawyer, computer scientist or engineer and would prefer to serve in an auxiliary capacity when it comes to those areas.
We have space for and welcome visiting doctoral (and postdoctoral) students who come from different universities and have their own funds for short-term stays, as long as they are doing work related to one of our main thematic research areas and have a clear scope of work.
My engagement with Masters students is oriented primarily around the Masters programs in Political Science, and associated collaborative masters programs, and the Masters in Global Affairs (MGA) Program at the Munk School of Global Affairs. I teach two versions of the same course (the Geopolitics of Cyberspace) each year: once in the fall as a Political Science course, and once in the spring term, which is restricted to the MGA students. (The fall version of the course is open to undergraduates and doctoral students from outside political science). Note: I am going on sabbatical for 2018-2019 so won’t be teaching during that time.
Most of my interaction with undergraduate students is through the fall version of the Geopolitics of Cyberspace course (POL. 481HF). I do occasionally supervise senior theses and independent reading courses — but rarely, and no more than one per semester. Unfortunately we do not have volunteer positions at the Citizen Lab for undergraduate students, but I occasionally hire undergraduates as research assistants. Any research assistant position is either advertised on the Citizen Lab website, or announced in the Geopolitics of Cyberspace course.
As a rule, I only hire undergraduate students as research assistants or supervise independent reading courses and theses once students have completed the Geopolitics of Cyberspace course. So, if you are an undergraduate interested in getting involved in the Citizen Lab or working for me as an RA, that’s the path to follow.
There is an endowed award, called the “Citizen Lab Award” that is awarded by the Department of Political Science to a student who has taken a political science course. The award includes a generous cash prize in exchange for working as an intern in the Citizen Lab for the summer. Typically, we give this award to a student who successfully completes Pol. 481HF.
We do not have a dedicated post doctoral fellowship, but I am pleased to host and supervise postdoctoral fellows, and have done so for students from computer science, law, engineering sciences, and political science, who come with their own funds (e.g., a SSHRC or NSERC postdoctoral fellowship). The Faculty of Arts and Sciences at the University of Toronto also has an advertised post doctoral fellowship program.
For all postdoctoral fellows, I would only consider hosting and supervising students whose interests fall within one of our main thematic areas (see below), and who will come prepared to help lead Citizen Lab research and tutor junior scholars and researchers. We expect postdoctoral fellows to show leadership, in other words, around advancing one of our main project areas.
There are several really great fellowship opportunities for which Citizen Lab is a host organization, and interested students should check the Citizen Lab website for deadlines and opportunities of these opportunities.
As of March 2018, current open fellowship opportunities include:
“The Google Policy Fellowship program offers undergraduate, graduate, and law students interested in Internet and technology policy the opportunity to spend the summer contributing to the public dialogue on these issues, and exploring future academic and professional interests.
Fellows will have the opportunity to work at public interest organizations at the forefront of debates on broadband and access policy, content regulation, copyright and creativity, consumer privacy, open government, government surveillance, data security, data innovation, free expression and more. More information about the host organizations and the areas of focus for the fellows is outlined here.
Fellows will be assigned a lead mentor at their host organizations and will have the opportunity to work with several senior staff members over the course of the summer. Fellows will be expected to make substantive contributions to the work of their organization, including conducting policy research and analysis, drafting reports and white papers, attending government and industry meetings and conferences, and participating in other advocacy activities.”
“This program cultivates research, outputs, and creative collaboration at different levels and across institutions on the topic of information controls – in particular repressive Internet censorship and surveillance. To do so, ICFP supports qualified individuals to work within host organizations that are existing centers of expertise by offering competitively paid fellowships.
Applications are open to people from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, including students and junior to mid-career practitioners. While individuals with diverse and unlikely backgrounds are encouraged to apply, likely candidates have experience as computer scientists, engineers, information security researchers, software developers, social scientists, lawyers and law students, data visualization designers, and others.”
“The Open Web Fellows program — a collaboration between Ford Foundation and Mozilla – is an international leadership initiative that brings together technology talent and civil society organizations to advance and protect the open Web.”
Engineers for the World Fellowship Program
The E4TW (Engineers For the World) Summer Fellowship is offered to one student who has completed year 2 or 3 of the Engineering Science program. This program gives an Engineering Science student the opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge in computer programming and internet technology, and their interests in technology policy and human rights, to research at the Citizen Lab. Work at the Citizen Lab includes projects focused on network security, malicious software analysis and the technical aspects of internet filtering, surveillance, and censorship circumvention technologies as well as the political implications of such technologies. The E4TW Summer Fellowship has been a partnership between the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs and the Division of Engineering Science since 2007.
Main Thematic Areas
I supervise students whose work intersects with the current research priorities of the Citizen Lab (which naturally are my own too!). Presently, the main thematic areas are listed below. I’m especially interested in having students from the social sciences who can integrate their research into these thematic areas:
Comparative Analysis of National-Level Information Controls (Network Monitoring)
This area is primarily about information controls at a national level — e.g., Internet censorship and surveillance. Citizen Lab work includes developing new tools and methods for network measurement, analyzing Internet filtering systems, and correlating network interference with political events (e.g., elections, protests, conflicts, etc). We were part of the OpenNet Initiative for over ten years, and as part of that research undertook comparative analyses of information controls in more than 70 countries. A byproduct of this research is the use of network measurement and scanning techniques to fingerprint the vendors of commercial surveillance, content filtering, deep-packet inspection, and other products and services. We also evaluate laws, policies, and norms related to the topics outlined above, on national and comparative bases. Students who are interested in understanding practices, norms, laws, and technologies around information controls at a national level would find a lot to build upon in this area. Citizen Lab works with a network of researchers in the global South, called the Cyber Stewards Network, which means that we have good partnerships with groups in those regions and good insight into the situations in the developing world. I am very interested in students working in comparative developing politics who are interested in better understanding practices and policies around cyber security in the global South, in failed and fragile states, and among authoritarian regimes or countries transitioning in and out of democracy.
Jakub Dalek, Ron Deibert, Bill Marczak, Sarah McKune, Helmi Noman, Irene Poetranto, and Adam Senft, “Tender Confirmed, Rights At Risk: Veryifying Netsweeper in Bahrain,” Citizen Lab, September 21, 2016.
Bill Marczak (Lead), Nicholas Weaver (Lead), Jakub Dalek, Roya Ensafi, David Fifield, Sarah McKune, Arn Rey, John Scott-Railton, Ronald Deibert, Vern Paxson,
“China’s Great Cannon,” Citizen Lab Research Brief No. 52, April 2015. [Download PDF]
Citizen Lab, “Islands of Control, Islands of Resistance: Monitoring the 2013 Indonesian IGF,” Citizen Lab Research Brief No. 30, January 2014. [Download PDF]
Ronald Deibert, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain, eds, Access Contested: Security, Identity, and Resistance in Asian Cyberspace (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011).
Ronald Deibert, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain, eds, Access Controlled: The Shaping of Power, Rights, and Rule in Cyberspace (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010).
Ronald Deibert, John Palfrey, Rafal Rohozinski, and Jonathan Zittrain, eds, Access Denied: The Practice and Policy of Global Internet Filtering (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2008).
Deibert, R. “The Geopolitics of Cyberspace After Snowden,” Current History (January 2015), [link]
Dalek, Jakub et al. “A method for identifying and confirming the use of URL filtering products for censorship,” [link] IMC’13, October 23–25, 2013
Targeted malware attacks against civil society
This research area focuses on investigating politically motivated targeted malware and other digital attack campaigns against civil society. This area of research includes reverse engineering malware, mapping attack infrastructure, tracking malware development, and linking contextual information to technical data through investigative research techniques and structured focused interviews. We are interested in better understanding the threat environment facing civil society organizations in the digital arena, especially as their adversaries become better equipped with surveillance and spyware tools. This area can involve exceptionally rigorous technical work (e.g., reverse engineering malware and mapping command and control infrastructure) but can also lend itself well to research that examines the political context around such attacks, the legal and regulatory environment around the control of surveillance technologies, structured focused interviews around specific targeted communities and their responses or defences to attacks, risk mitigation, and evidence of psycho-social harms.
John Scott Railton, et al, “Packrat: Seven Years of a South American Threat Actor,” December 8, 2015. [link].
Bill Marczak, John Scott-Railton and Sarah McKune, “Hacking Team Reloaded? US-Based Ethiopian Journalists Again Targeted With Spyware,” Citizen Lab Research Brief No.50, March 2015. [Download PDF]
Citizen Lab, “Communities @ Risk: Targeted Digital Threats Against Civil Society,” Citizen Lab Report No. 48, November 2014.
Privacy and security of mobile apps and social media
Projects in this area include uncovering censorship and surveillance in popular applications and social media platforms (e.g, chat apps, microblogs, etc), and evaluating the privacy and security of popular consumer apps (e.g., browsers, fitness trackers, etc). We are particularly interested in widely used apps and platforms that are understudied by security researchers. The goal of this work is to help users make more informed decision about the technologies they use and better understand the way threat actors might exploit privacy and security flaws to track high risk users. Students who are interested in researching how Internet intermediaries (e.g., mobile carriers, applications) affect information controls would find a lot to work with in this area. This area also lends itself well to national comparative analyses of Internet censorship and surveillance in the mobile arena.
Citizen Lab, “A Chatty Squirrel: Privacy and Security Issues with UC Browser,” (May 21, 2015) [link]
Citizen Lab, “The Many Identifiers in Our Pockets,” [link]
Citizen Lab,” Are the Kids Alright? Digital Risks to Minors from South Korea’s Smart Sheriff Application.” September 20, 2015. [link].
Crandall, J., Crete-Nishihata, M., Knockel, J., McKune, S., Senft, A., Tseng, D., and Wiseman, G. (2013). “China Chats: Tracking Surveillance and Censorship in TOM-Skype and Sina UC.” First Monday, 18(1). [link]
Corporate and public transparency
Projects in this area include developing software platforms for empowering citizens to exercise their rights to data protection and access requests, and analyzing the systems, policies, and practices of telecommunication and Internet companies as it pertains to the handling and sharing of customer data. We are especially interested in tracking state SIGINT practices, in Canada and abroad, as revealed by the Snowden disclosures and other sources of information. I am presently supervising PhD students in political science who are exploring the impact of the Snowden disclosures on SIGINT practices, and the norms governing intelligence sharing among the FVEYs. We are also presently developing out and expanding research on the Access My Info project to several jurisdictions outside North America, offering the first opportunity to analyze primary data on corporate data handling and sharing practices that arises from user requests.
Christopher Parsons, “Mapping the Canadian Government’s Telecommunications Surveillance,” Citizen Lab, March 27, 2014. [link]
MacKinnon, R. (2011). Corporate Accountability in Networked Asia. In R. Deibert, J. Palfrey, R. Rohozinski, & J. Zittrain (Eds.), Access Contested: Security, Identity, and Resistance in Asian Cyberspace. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [link]
Parsons, C. and T. Israel, “Canada’s Quiet History of Weakening Encryption,” August 11, 2015. [link]
Deibert, R. “Who Knows What Evils Lurk in the Shadows?” [link]
Ronald J. Deibert. Black Code: Surveillance, Privacy and the Dark Side of the Internet (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2013).