Architectural Neural Backdoors from First Principles


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While previous research backdoored neural networks by changing their parameters, recent work uncovered a more insidious threat: backdoors embedded within the definition of the network's architecture. This involves injecting common architectural components, such as activation functions and pooling layers, to subtly introduce a backdoor behavior that persists even after (full re-)training. However, the full scope and implications of architectural backdoors have remained largely unexplored. Bober-Irizar et al. [2023] introduced the first architectural backdoor; they showed how to create a backdoor for a checkerboard pattern, but never explained how to target an arbitrary trigger pattern of choice. In this work we construct an arbitrary trigger detector which can be used to backdoor an architecture with no human supervision. This leads us to revisit the concept of architecture backdoors and taxonomise them, describing 12 distinct types. To gauge the difficulty of detecting such backdoors, we conducted a user study, revealing that ML developers can only identify suspicious components in common model definitions as backdoors in 37 models in 33 models outperform humans at the detection of backdoors. Finally, we discuss defenses against architectural backdoors, emphasizing the need for robust and comprehensive strategies to safeguard the integrity of ML systems.
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