On Adaptive Attacks to Adversarial Example Defenses

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Florian Tramer, Nicholas Carlini, Wieland Brendel, Aleksander Madry


Adaptive attacks have (rightfully) become the de facto standard for evaluating defenses to adversarial examples. We find, however, that typical adaptive evaluations are incomplete. We demonstrate that 13 defenses recently published at ICLR, ICML and NeurIPS---and which illustrate a diverse set of defense strategies---can be circumvented despite attempting to perform evaluations using adaptive attacks.

While prior evaluation papers focused mainly on the end result---showing that a defense was ineffective---this paper focuses on laying out the methodology and the approach necessary to perform an adaptive attack. Some of our attack strategies are generalizable, but no single strategy would have been sufficient for all defenses. This underlines our key message that adaptive attacks cannot be automated and always require careful and appropriate tuning to a given defense. We hope that these analyses will serve as guidance on how to properly perform adaptive attacks against defenses to adversarial examples, and thus will allow the community to make further progress in building more robust models.