Complex network effects on the robustness of graph convolutional networks

Benjamin A. Miller, Kevin Chan, Tina Eliassi-Rad
Applied Network Science
9, Article number: 5 (2024)
February 21, 2024


Vertex classification using graph convolutional networks is susceptible to targeted poisoning attacks, in which both graph structure and node attributes can be changed in an attempt to misclassify a target node. This vulnerability decreases users' confidence in the learning method and can prevent adoption in high-stakes contexts. Defenses have been proposed, focused on filtering edges before creating the model or aggregating information from neighbors more robustly. This paper considers an alternative: we investigate the ability to exploit network phenomena in the training data selection process to improve classifier robustness. We propose two alternative methods of selecting training data: (1) to select the highest-degree nodes and (2) to select nodes with many connections to the test data. In four real datasets, we show that changing the training set often results in far more perturbations required for a successful attack on the graph structure; often a factor of 2 over the random training baseline. We also run a simulation study in which we demonstrate conditions under which the proposed methods outperform random selection, finding that they improve performance most when homophily is higher, clustering coefficient is higher, node degrees are more homogeneous, and attributes are less informative. In addition, we show that the methods are effective when applied to adaptive attacks, alleviating concerns about generalizability.

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