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  1. Due to its decentralized nature, Federated Learning (FL) lends itself to adversarial attacks in the form of backdoors during training. The goal of a backdoor is to corrupt the performance of the trained model on specific sub-tasks (e.g., by classifying green cars as frogs). A range of FL backdoor attacks have been introduced in the literature, but also methods to defend against them, and it is currently an open question whether FL systems can be tailored to be robust against backdoors. In this work, we provide evidence to the contrary. We first establish that, in the general case, robustness to backdoors implies model robustness to adversarial examples, a major open problem in itself. Furthermore, detecting the presence of a backdoor in a FL model is unlikely assuming first order oracles or polynomial time. We couple our theoretical results with a new family of backdoor attacks, which we refer to as edge-case backdoors. An edge-case backdoor forces a model to misclassify on seemingly easy inputs that are however unlikely to be part of the training, or test data, i.e., they live on the tail of the input distribution. We explain how these edge-case backdoors can lead to unsavory failures and maymore »have serious repercussions on fairness, and exhibit that with careful tuning at the side of the adversary, one can insert them across a range of machine learning tasks (e.g., image classification, OCR, text prediction, sentiment analysis).« less
  2. To improve the resilience of distributed training to worst-case, or Byzantine node failures, several recent approaches have replaced gradient averaging with robust aggregation methods. Such techniques can have high computational costs, often quadratic in the number of compute nodes, and only have limited robustness guarantees. Other methods have instead used redundancy to guarantee robustness, but can only tolerate limited number of Byzantine failures. In this work, we present DETOX, a Byzantine-resilient distributed training framework that combines algorithmic redundancy with robust aggregation. DETOX operates in two steps, a filtering step that uses limited redundancy to significantly reduce the effect of Byzantine nodes, and a hierarchical aggregation step that can be used in tandem with any state-of-the-art robust aggregation method. We show theoretically that this leads to a substantial increase in robustness, and has a per iteration runtime that can be nearly linear in the number of compute nodes. We provide extensive experiments over real distributed setups across a variety of large-scale machine learning tasks, showing that DETOX leads to orders of magnitude accuracy and speedup improvements over many state-of-the-art Byzantine-resilient approaches.
  3. Data augmentation (DA) is commonly used during model training, as it significantly improves test error and model robustness. DA artificially expands the training set by applying random noise, rotations, crops, or even adversarial perturbations to the input data. Although DA is widely used, its capacity to provably improve robustness is not fully understood. In this work, we analyze the robustness that DA begets by quantifying the margin that DA enforces on empirical risk minimizers. We first focus on linear separators, and then a class of nonlinear models whose labeling is constant within small convex hulls of data points. We present lower bounds on the number of augmented data points required for non-zero margin, and show that commonly used DA techniques may only introduce significant margin after adding exponentially many points to the data set.