BadRAG: Identifying Vulnerabilities in Retrieval Augmented Generation of Large Language Models


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Large Language Models (LLMs) are constrained by outdated information and a tendency to generate incorrect data, commonly referred to as "hallucinations." Retrieval-Augmented Generation (RAG) addresses these limitations by combining the strengths of retrieval-based methods and generative models. This approach involves retrieving relevant information from a large, up-to-date dataset and using it to enhance the generation process, leading to more accurate and contextually appropriate responses. Despite its benefits, RAG introduces a new attack surface for LLMs, particularly because RAG databases are often sourced from public data, such as the web. In this paper, we propose to identify the vulnerabilities and attacks on retrieval parts (RAG database) and their indirect attacks on generative parts (LLMs). Specifically, we identify that poisoning several customized content passages could achieve a retrieval backdoor, where the retrieval works well for clean queries but always returns customized poisoned adversarial queries. Triggers and poisoned passages can be highly customized to implement various attacks. For example, a trigger could be a semantic group like "The Republican Party, Donald Trump, etc." Adversarial passages can be tailored to different contents, not only linked to the triggers but also used to indirectly attack generative LLMs without modifying them. These attacks can include denial-of-service attacks on RAG and semantic steering attacks on LLM generations conditioned by the triggers. Our experiments demonstrate that by just poisoning 10 adversarial passages can induce 98.2% success rate to retrieve the adversarial passages. Then, these passages can increase the reject ratio of RAG-based GPT-4 from 0.01% to 74.6% or increase the rate of negative responses from 0.22% to 72% for targeted queries.
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