Fed-FA: Theoretically Modeling Client Data Divergence for Federated Language Backdoor Defense

Zhiyuan Zhang · Deli Chen · Hao Zhou · Fandong Meng · Jie Zhou · Xu Sun

Great Hall & Hall B1+B2 (level 1) #1615
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Thu 14 Dec 3 p.m. PST — 5 p.m. PST


Federated learning algorithms enable neural network models to be trained across multiple decentralized edge devices without sharing private data. However, they are susceptible to backdoor attacks launched by malicious clients. Existing robust federated aggregation algorithms heuristically detect and exclude suspicious clients based on their parameter distances, but they are ineffective on Natural Language Processing (NLP) tasks. The main reason is that, although text backdoor patterns are obvious at the underlying dataset level, they are usually hidden at the parameter level, since injecting backdoors into texts with discrete feature space has less impact on the statistics of the model parameters. To settle this issue, we propose to identify backdoor clients by explicitly modeling the data divergence among clients in federated NLP systems. Through theoretical analysis, we derive the f-divergence indicator to estimate the client data divergence with aggregation updates and Hessians. Furthermore, we devise a dataset synthesization method with a Hessian reassignment mechanism guided by the diffusion theory to address the key challenge of inaccessible datasets in calculating clients' data Hessians.We then present the novel Federated F-Divergence-Based Aggregation~(\textbf{Fed-FA}) algorithm, which leverages the f-divergence indicator to detect and discard suspicious clients. Extensive empirical results show that Fed-FA outperforms all the parameter distance-based methods in defending against backdoor attacks among various natural language backdoor attack scenarios.

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