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Workshop: Trustworthy and Socially Responsible Machine Learning

FL-Talk: Covert Communication in Federated Learning via Spectral Steganography

Huili Chen · Farinaz Koushanfar


Federated Learning (FL) allows edge users to collaboratively train a global model without sharing their private data. We propose FL-Talk, the first spectral steganography-based covert communication framework in FL that enables stealthy information sharing between local clients while preserving FL convergence. We demonstrate that the sender can encode the secret message strategically in the spectrum of his local model parameters such that after model aggregation, the receiver can extract the message correctly from the ‘encoded’ global model. Furthermore, we design a robust spectral message detection scheme for the receiver. Extensive evaluation results show that FL-Talk can establish a stealthy and reliable covert communication channel between clients without interfering with FL training.

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