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Adversarial Attacks on Neural Networks: Exploring the Fast Gradient Sign Method

Since their invention, neural networks have always been the crème de la crème of machine learning algorithms. They have driven most of the breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. 

Neural networks have proven to be robust at performing highly complex tasks that even humans find very challenging. 

Can their incredible robustness extend beyond their original purpose? That’s what we’ll try to find out in this article.

Personally, one area that I never expected to intersect with AI is security. As it turns out, this is one of the few areas where neural networks fail. 

We’ll try a very popular attack, the Fast Gradient Sign Method, to demonstrate the security vulnerabilities of neural networks. But first, let’s explore different categories of attacks.

Adversarial attacks

Depending on what you as the attacker know about the model you wish to fool, there are several categories of attacks. The two most popular are the white box attack and black box attack. 

Both of these attack categories have the general goal of fooling a neural network into making wrong predictions. They do it by adding hard-to-notice noise to the input of the network. 

What makes these two types of attacks different is your ability to gain access to the entire architecture of the model. With white box attacks, you have complete access to the architecture (weights), and the input and output of the model. 

Control over the model is lower with black box attacks, as you only have access to the input and output of the model. 

There are some goals that you might have in mind when performing either of these attacks: 

  • misclassification, where you only want to drive the model into making wrong predictions without worrying about the class of the prediction, 
  • source / target misclassification, where your intention is to add noise to the image to push the model to predict a specific class. 

The Fast Gradient Sign Method (FGSM) combines a white box approach with a misclassification goal. It tricks a neural network model into making wrong predictions.

Let’s see how FGSM works.

Fast Gradient Sign Method explanation

The name makes it seem like a difficult thing to understand, but the FGSM attack is incredibly simple. It involves three steps in this order:

  1. Calculate the loss after forward propagation,
  2. Calculate the gradient with respect to the pixels of the image,
  3. Nudge the pixels of the image ever so slightly in the direction of the calculated gradients that maximize the loss calculated above.

The first step, calculating the loss after forward propagation, is very common in machine learning projects. We use a negative likelihood loss function to estimate how close the prediction of our model is to the actual class. 

What is not common, is the calculation of the gradients with respect to the pixels of the image. When it comes to training neural networks, gradients are how you determine the direction in which to nudge your weights to reduce the loss value. 

Instead of doing that, here we adjust the input image pixels in the direction of the gradients to maximize the loss value.

When training neural networks, the most popular way of determining the direction in which to adjust a particular weight deep in the network (that is, the gradient of the loss function with respect to that particular weight) is by back-propagating the gradients from the start (output part) to the weight. 

The same concept applies here. We back-propagate the gradients from the output layer to the input image. 

In neural network training, in order to nudge the weights to decrease the loss value, we use this simple equation:

new_weights = old_weights – learning_rate * gradients

Again, we apply the same concept for FGSM, but we want to maximize the loss, so we nudge the pixel values of the image according to the equation below:

new_pixels = old_pixels + epsilon * gradients

gradients FGSM

In the image above, we see two arrows representing two different ways of adjusting gradients to achieve a goal. The equation on the left hand side, as you might have probably guessed correctly, is the fundamental equation involved in training neural networks. Naturally, the gradients computed point to the direction that maximizes the loss. The negative sign in the neural networking training equation ensures that the gradient points in the opposite direction – the direction that minimizes the loss. That is not the case with the equation on the right hand side which is the equation involved in fooling the neural network. Since we want to maximize the loss, we apply the gradients in their natural form, so to speak.

There are a number of differences between the two equations. The most important one is addition and subtraction. By using the structure of equation two, we nudge the pixels in the direction opposite to the direction that minimizes the loss. By doing so, we are telling our model to do just one thing – make wrong predictions!

In the image above, x represents the input image that we want the model to predict wrongly. The second part of the image represents the gradients of the loss function with respect to the input image. 

Remember that the gradient is just a directional tensor (it gives information about which direction to move in). In order to enforce the nudging effect, we multiply the gradients with a very tiny value, epsilon (0.007 in the image). Then we add the result to the input image, and that’s it! 

The alarming expression under the resulting image can simply be put this way:

input_image_pixels + epsilon * gradient of loss function with respect to the input_image_pixels

At this point, let’s summarize what we’ve talked about so far, and next we’ll do some coding. In order to trick a neural network into making wrong predictions, we:

  • forward-propagate our image through our neural network,
  • calculate the loss,
  • back-propagate the gradients to the image,
  • nudge the pixels of the image in the direction that maximizes the loss value.

By doing so, we tell the neural network to make a prediction about the image that is far from the correct class.

One thing we need to note is that the degree of noticeability of the noise on the resulting image depends on the epsilon – the larger the value, the more noticeable the noise. 

Increasing epsilon also increases the possibility of the network making a wrong prediction.

The code

In this tutorial, we’re going to use TensorFlow to build our entire pipeline. We’ll focus on the most important parts of the code, without going into parts related to data processing. 
First, we’re going to load one of TensorFlow’s state-of-the-art models, the mobileNet V2 model:

pretrained_model = tf.keras.applications.MobileNetV2(include_top=True,
                                                     weights='imagenet')
pretrained_model.trainable = False

Setting the model’s trainable property to false means our model cannot be trained hence any effort to change the model parameters in order to fool the model is going to fail.

We may want to visualize the images to get a sense of how different values of epsilon affects the predictions as well as the nature of the image. The simple snippet of code takes care of that.

def display_images(image, info):
  _, label, prob = get_imagenet_label(pretrained_model.predict(image))
  plt.figure()
  plt.imshow(image[0]*0.5+0.5)
  plt.title('{} \n {} : {:.2f}% prob.format(info,label,prob*100))
  plt.show()

Next, we load our image, run it through our model and obtain the gradients of the loss with respect to the image.

loss_object = tf.keras.losses.Categorical_Crossentropy()
def create_adversarial_pattern(input_image, input_label):
  with tf.GradientTape() as tape:
    tape.watch(input_image)

    #forward propagate image and retrieve the loss
    prediction = pretrained_model(input_image)
    loss = loss_object(input_label, prediction)

   # obtain the gradient of the loss with respect to the input image
   gradient = tape.gradient(loss, input_image)

   # Get the sign of the gradients (directions)
   signed_grad = tf.sign(gradient)
   return signed_grad

Printing signed_grad shows a tensor of ones. Some with a positive sign, others with a negative sign, which indicates that the gradients only enforce a directional effect on the image. Plotting it reveals the image below.

adversarial example generation output

Now that we have the gradients, we can nudge the image pixels in the direction opposite to the direction of the gradients. 

In other words, we nudge the image pixels in the directions that maximize the loss. We are going to run the attack on different values of epsilon, with epsilon=0 indicating no attack is being run.

epsilons = [0, 0.01, 0.1, 0.15]
descriptions = [('Epsilon = {:0.3f}'.format(eps) if eps else 'Input')
                for eps in epsilons]
for i, eps in enumerate(epsilons):
  adv_x = image + eps*perturbations #input_image + epsilon * gradients
  adv_x = tf.clip_by_value(adv_x, -1, 1)
  display_images(adv_x, descriptions[i])

We get the following results:

adversarial example generation
adversarial example generation
adversarial example generation

Notice the pattern in the three images above? With increasing value of epsilon, the noise becomes more visible, and the confidence for a wrong prediction increases. 

We have successfully fooled a state-of-the-art model into making wrong predictions, without changing anything about the model.

Let’s perform a little experiment here to confirm a concept we discussed above. Instead of adding the result of the tensor multiplication of epsilon and the gradients (image + eps * signed_grad) to the image, which nudges the pixels of the image in the direction of maximizing the loss, we’re going to perform subtraction, which nudges the pixels of the image in the direction which minimizes the loss (image – eps * signed_grad).

epsilons = [0, 0.01, 0.1, 0.15]
descriptions = [('Epsilon = {:0.3f}'.format(eps) if eps else 'Input')
                for eps in epsilons]
for i, eps in enumerate(epsilons):
  adv_x = image - eps*perturbations #input_image - epsilon * gradients
  adv_x = tf.clip_by_value(adv_x, -1, 1)
  display_images(adv_x, descriptions[i])

The result:

adversarial example generation
adversarial example generation

By nudging the image pixels in the direction of the gradient that minimizes the loss, we increase the confidence of the model in making correct predictions much more than without this experiment. It went from 41.82% confidence to 97.89%.

Next steps

Since the invention of the FGSM, several other methods were created with different angles of attacks. You can check out some of these attacks here: Survey on Attacks

You can also try out different models and a different image. You may also build your own model from scratch and also try out different values of epsilon.

That’s it for now, thank you for reading!


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How to Organize Deep Learning Projects – Examples of Best Practices

13 mins read | Author Nilesh Barla | Updated May 31st, 2021

For a successful deep learning project, you need a lot of iterations, a lot of time, and a lot of effort. To make this process less painful, you should try to use your resources to the max.

A good step-by-step workflow will help you do that. With it, your projects become productive, reproducible, and understandable.

In this article you’ll see how to structure work on deep learning projects — from the inception to deployment, monitoring the deployed model, and everything in between. 

Along the way, we’ll use Neptune to run, monitor, and analyze your experiments. Neptune is a cool tool for increasing productivity in ML projects.

In this article you will learn:

  1. About the lifecycle of the project.
  2. Importance of defining an objective or goal of the project.
  3. Collecting data based on the requirements of the project.
  4. Model training and results exploration including:
    1. Establishing baselines for better results.
    2. Adopting techniques and approaches from the existing open-source state-of-the-art models research papers and code repositories.
    3. Experiment tracking and management management 
  5. Model refinement techniques to avoid underfitting and overfitting like:
    1. Controlling hyperparameters
    2. Regularisation
    3. Pruning
  6. Testing and evaluating your project before deployment.
  7. Model deployment
  8. Project maintenance
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