- TL;DR: We proposed a novel distributed backdoor attack on federated learning and show that it is not only more effective compared with standard centralized attacks, but also harder to be defended by existing robust FL methods
- Abstract: Backdoor attacks aim to manipulate a subset of training data by injecting adversarial triggers such that machine learning models trained on the tampered dataset will make arbitrarily (targeted) incorrect prediction on the testset with the same trigger embedded. While federated learning (FL) is capable of aggregating information provided by different parties for training a better model, its distributed learning methodology and inherently heterogeneous data distribution across parties may bring new vulnerabilities. In addition to recent centralized backdoor attacks on FL where each party embeds the same global trigger during training, we propose the distributed backdoor attack (DBA) --- a novel threat assessment framework developed by fully exploiting the distributed nature of FL. DBA decomposes a global trigger pattern into separate local patterns and embed them into the training set of different adversarial parties respectively. Compared to standard centralized backdoors, we show that DBA is substantially more persistent and stealthy against FL on diverse datasets such as finance and image data. We conduct extensive experiments to show that the attack success rate of DBA is significantly higher than centralized backdoors under different settings. Moreover, we find that distributed attacks are indeed more insidious, as DBA can evade two state-of-the-art robust FL algorithms against centralized backdoors. We also provide explanations for the effectiveness of DBA via feature visual interpretation and feature importance ranking. To further explore the properties of DBA, we test the attack performance by varying different trigger factors, including local trigger variations (size, gap, and location), scaling factor in FL, data distribution, and poison ratio and interval. Our proposed DBA and thorough evaluation results shed lights on characterizing the robustness of FL.
- Keywords: distributed backdoor attack, federated learning