Spectral Signatures in Backdoor Attacks

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 31 (NeurIPS 2018)

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Brandon Tran, Jerry Li, Aleksander Madry


A recent line of work has uncovered a new form of data poisoning: so-called backdoor attacks. These attacks are particularly dangerous because they do not affect a network's behavior on typical, benign data. Rather, the network only deviates from its expected output when triggered by an adversary's planted perturbation.

In this paper, we identify a new property of all known backdoor attacks, which we call spectral signatures. This property allows us to utilize tools from robust statistics to thwart the attacks. We demonstrate the efficacy of these signatures in detecting and removing poisoned examples on real image sets and state of the art neural network architectures. We believe that understanding spectral signatures is a crucial first step towards a principled understanding of backdoor attacks.