Researchers devise method to study network resistance to random failures based on 'random walks'

May 27, 2014 by Bob Yirka report
social network
Social network diagram. Credit: Daniel Tenerife/Wikipedia

( —A small team of mathematicians with Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Spain, has come up with a way to study a network's resistance to failure. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers describe the concept of "random walks" and how it can be used to mathematically analyze a wide variety of networks to study its resistance to failure.

We humans have a tendency to build networks—from , to our highway systems to the Internet, networks carry both real world things and virtual information—all necessary for the smooth running of modern economies. Unfortunately, as we learn when the electric grid fails or traffic snarls on the freeway, networks have a tendency to fail us at times. Most people understand intuitively that such failures generaly come about due to a failure in a single part of the —a car crash, a leak in a pipe or an injury to a body part. Most are aware also of backups put in place to deal with such failures—busses can be used when a metro network suffers a or snail-mail can be used if the Internet goes down. But how much redundancy is necessary to keep a network running, and how well does it do so? These are questions scientists and engineers grapple with every day. In this new effort, the team in Spain has developed a new tool to help, they call it the concept of "random walks."

To explain their idea, they used London's mass transit system—the Tube—as their basic network. What happens when a section of the system goes down, they asked. Because people are in the middle of it, there is no clear direction on what to do, i.e. to get to where they want to go. Some use logic, mapping out the rest of the network in their head. Others, however, simply begin walking in a random direction, assuming that a solution will reveal itself. In multi-layer networks (where there are parts that are separate from each other) it turns out, people taking random walks works out pretty well. The researchers came to this conclusion by applying mathematical algorithms to the idea and then creating models based on them. They found that random walks can be programmed into virtually any network model and doing so helps to demonstrate the robustness of the network as well how well it will operate when failures do occur. Thus, new networks can be put to the test before they are constructed, making them work better in the long run.

Explore further: Why rumors spread fast in social networks

More information: Navigability of interconnected networks under random failures, PNAS,

Related Stories

Why rumors spread fast in social networks

May 21, 2012

Information spreads fast in social networks. This could be observed during recent events. Now computer scientists from the German Saarland University provide the mathematical proof for this and come up with a surprising explanation.

When diffusion depends on chronology

July 15, 2013

The Internet, motorways and other transport systems, and many social and biological systems are composed of nodes connected by edges. They can therefore be represented as networks. Scientists studying diffusion over such ...

Molecular networks provide insights for computer security

April 29, 2014

The robust defenses that yeast cells have evolved to protect themselves from environmental threats hold lessons that can be used to design computer networks and analyze how secure they are, say computer scientists at Carnegie ...

Recommended for you

From a very old skeleton, new insights on ancient migrations

October 9, 2015

Three years ago, a group of researchers found a cave in Ethiopia with a secret: it held the 4,500-year-old remains of a man, with his head resting on a rock pillow, his hands folded under his face, and stone flake tools surrounding ...

Mexican site yields new details of sacrifice of Spaniards

October 9, 2015

It was one of the worst defeats in one of history's most dramatic conquests: Only a year after Hernan Cortes landed in Mexico, hundreds of people in a Spanish-led convey were captured, sacrificed and apparently eaten.

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.