Robust active attacks on social graphs

Sjouke Mauw, Yunior Ramírez-Cruz, Rolando Trujillo-Rasua

In order to prevent the disclosure of privacy-sensitive data, such as names and relations between users, social network graphs have to be anonymised before publication. Naive anonymisation of social network graphs often consists in deleting all identifying information of the users, while maintaining the original graph structure. Various types of attacks on naively anonymised graphs have been developed. Active attacks form a special type of such privacy attacks, in which the adversary enrols a number of fake users, often called sybils, to the social network, allowing the adversary to create unique structural patterns later used to re-identify the sybil nodes and other users after anonymisation. Several studies have shown that adding a small amount of noise to the published graph already suffices to mitigate such active attacks. Consequently, active attacks have been dubbed a negligible threat to privacy-preserving social graph publication. In this paper, we argue that these studies unveil shortcomings of specific attacks, rather than inherent problems of active attacks as a general strategy. In order to support this claim, we develop the notion of a robust active attack, which is an active attack that is resilient to small perturbations of the social network graph. We formulate the design of robust active attacks as an optimisation problem and we give definitions of robustness for different stages of the active attack strategy. Moreover, we introduce various heuristics to achieve these notions of robustness and experimentally show that the new robust attacks are considerably more resilient than the original ones, while remaining at the same level of feasibility.

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