The Topology of Dark Networks

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081001_CACM_dark_networks.largeBy Jennifer Xu and Hsinchun Chen

SCIENTISTS FROM A variety of disciplines, including physics, sociology, biology, and computing, all explore the topological properties of complex systems that can be characterized as large-scale networks, including scienti c collaborations, the Web, the Internet, electric power grids, and biological and social networks. Despite the differences in their components, functions, and size, they are surprisingly similar in topology, leading to the conjecture that many complex systems are governed by the ubiquitous “self-organizing” principle, or that the internal complexity of a system increases without being guided or managed by external sources.

Still missing from this line of research, however, is an analysis of the topology of “dark” networks hidden from view yet that could have devastating effects on our social order and economy. Terrorist organizations, drug-traf cking rings, arms-smuggling operations, gang enterprises, and many other covert networks are dark networks. Their structures are largely unknown to…

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