According to a Reuters report, Mozilla blocked the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from becoming one if it’s internet security guardians after learning of a cyber espionage program associated with the state. Mozilla announced the rejection in a statement earlier this month, assuring users of their browser, Firefox, that they are cyber-secure.
Had the UAE become Mozilla Firefox’s cybersecurity safeguard, they would have enlisted Abu Dhabi-based cybersecurity firm DarkMatter, who has been linked to a secret, state-run hacking operation codenamed Project Raven. According to former Raven operatives, many DarkMatter executives were unaware of the secret program. DarkMatter provided the employees Project Raven’s staff, many of whom were former U.S. intelligence officials with shady pasts regarding cybersecurity and the UAE government.
Reuters reported earlier this year that DarkMatter had used Project Raven to hack the internet accounts of human rights activists, journalists and officials from rival governments, including the U.S. DarkMatter has denied being connected to the alleged activity, calling the claims “false, defamatory, and unsubstantiated statements.”
Mozilla’s senior director of engineering said that the Reuters, New York Times, and Intercept articles reporting the dubious activity made them reconsider their relationship with DarkMatter and “that placing [their] trust in DarkMatter and disregarding credible evidence would put both the web and users at risk.”
Websites that want to be officially designated as “safe” have to go through a certification process in which an outside organization, such as DarkMatter, confirms the site’s identity and vouches for its security. If that certifying outside organization is in the business of surveillance, however, websites that impersonate banks and email services can be faked, allowing the company to spy on users and hackers to intercept data.
DarkMatter applied for certificate authority on behalf of the UAE government, and a denial based on media reports is unprecedented. DarkMatter executives as well as security experts claim that relying on news articles could create a new precedent of bias within the process. Benjamin Gabriel, general counsel for DarkMatter claimed that Mozilla’s decision showed “a hidden organizational animus that is fatal to the idea of ‘due process’ and ‘fundamental fairness.’”