Finding rumor sources on random trees

D. Shah, T. Zaman
Operations Research, Volume 64, No. 3, pp. 736 - 755, 2016

We consider the problem of detecting the source of a rumor which has spread in a network using only observations about which set of nodes are infected with the rumor and with no information as to when these nodes became infected. In a recent work (Shah and Zaman 2010), this rumor source detection problem was introduced and studied. The authors proposed the graph score function rumor centrality as an estimator for detecting the source. They establish it to be the maximum likelihood estimator with respect to the popular Susceptible Infected (SI) model with exponential spreading times for regular trees. They showed that as the size of the infected graph increases, for a path graph (2-regular tree), the probability of source detection goes to 0 and for d-regular trees with d ¾ 3 the probability of detection, say d , remains bounded away from 0 and is less than 1/2. However, their results stop short of providing insights for the performance of the rumor centrality estimator in more general settings such as irregular trees or the SI model with nonexponential spreading times. This paper overcomes this limitation and establishes the effectiveness of rumor centrality for source detection for generic random trees and the SI model with a generic spreading time distribution. The key result is an interesting connection between a continuous time branching process and the effectiveness of rumor centrality. Through this, it is possible to quantify the detection probability precisely. As a consequence, we recover all previous results as a special case and obtain a variety of novel results including the universality of rumor centrality in the context of tree-like graphs and the SI model with a generic spreading time distribution