Imbalanced gradients: a subtle cause of overestimated adversarial robustness


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Evaluating the robustness of a defense model is a challenging task in adversarial robustness research. Obfuscated gradients have previously been found to exist in many defense methods and cause a false signal of robustness. In this paper, we identify a more subtle situation called Imbalanced Gradients that can also cause overestimated adversarial robustness. The phenomenon of imbalanced gradients occurs when the gradient of one term of the margin loss dominates and pushes the attack towards to a suboptimal direction. To exploit imbalanced gradients, we formulate a margin decomposition (MD) attack that decomposes a margin loss into individual terms and then explores the attackability of these terms separately via a two-stage process. We also propose a multi-targeted and ensemble version of our MD attack. By investigating 24 defense models proposed since 2018, we find that 11 models are susceptible to a certain degree of imbalanced gradients and our MD attack can decrease their robustness evaluated by the best standalone baseline attack by more than 1%. We also provide an in-depth investigation on the likely causes of imbalanced gradients and effective countermeasures.
Adversarial attack,Robustness evaluation,Deep neural networks
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