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CHIPS Articles: Defending Against Adversarial Artificial Intelligence

Defending Against Adversarial Artificial Intelligence
DARPA aims to develop defenses to thwart attempts to deceive machine learning algorithms
By CHIPS Magazine - February 7, 2019
From personal digital assistants to a variety of online and telephone customer services, artificial intelligence is becoming integrated in a diverse array of sophisticated applications – from highly efficient manufacturing, medicine and massive information analysis to self-driving transportation, and more. However, DARPA warns that if misapplied, misused or subverted, machine learning has the potential to create great harm.

“Over the last decade, researchers have focused on realizing practical ML capable of accomplishing real-world tasks and making them more efficient,” said Dr. Hava Siegelmann, program manager in DARPA’s Information Innovation Office (I2O). “We’re already benefitting from that work, and rapidly incorporating ML into a number of enterprises. But, in a very real way, we’ve rushed ahead, paying little attention to vulnerabilities inherent in ML platforms – particularly in terms of altering, corrupting or deceiving these systems.”

In a notorious example, ML used by a self-driving car was tricked by visual alterations to a stop sign. While a human viewing the altered sign would have no difficulty interpreting its meaning, the ML erroneously interpreted the stop sign as a 45 mph speed limit posting. In a real-world hack like this, the self-driving car would accelerate through the stop sign, potentially causing a disastrous accident.

To safeguard against such challenges, DARPA created the Guaranteeing AI Robustness against Deception program. GARD aims to develop a new generation of defenses against adversarial deception attacks on ML models. Current defense efforts were designed to protect against specific, pre-defined adversarial attacks and, remained vulnerable to attacks outside their design parameters when tested, DARPA said in a release. GARD seeks to approach ML defense differently – by developing broad-based defenses that can thwart possible attacks in a given scenario.

“There is a critical need for ML defense as the technology is increasingly incorporated into some of our most critical infrastructure. The GARD program seeks to prevent the chaos that could ensue in the near future when attack methodologies, now in their infancy, have matured to a more destructive level. We must ensure ML is safe and incapable of being deceived,” stated Siegelmann.

DARPA outlined GARD’s three main objectives: (1) the development of theoretical foundations for defensible ML and a lexicon of new defense mechanisms based on them; (2) the creation and testing of defensible systems in a diverse range of settings; and (3) the construction of a new testbed for characterizing ML defensibility relative to threat scenarios.

Through these interdependent program elements, GARD aims to create deception-resistant ML technologies with stringent criteria for evaluating their robustness, DARPA explained.

GARD will explore many research classifications for potential defenses, including biology. “The kind of broad scenario-based defense we’re looking to generate can be seen, for example, in the immune system, which identifies attacks, wins and remembers the attack to create a more effective response during future engagements,” said Siegelmann.

GARD will work on addressing present needs, but is keeping future challenges in mind, DARPA explained. The program will initially concentrate on state-of-the-art image-based ML, then progress to video, audio and more complex systems – including multi-sensor and multi-modality variations. It will also seek to address ML capable of predictions, decisions and adapting during its lifetime.

A Proposers Day will be held on Feb. 6, 2019, from 9:00 AM to 2:00 PM (EST) at the DARPA Conference Center, located at 675 N. Randolph Street, Arlington, Virginia, 22203 to provide greater detail about the GARD program’s technical goals and challenges.

Additional information will be available in the forthcoming Broad Agency Announcement, which will be posted to

Adversarial AI is a growing concern for defense and commercial communities, especially as machine learning continues to advance in sophistication and ubiquity. To combat this growing threat, the GARD program seeks to develop a new generation of defenses to protect against adversarial deception of machine learning. DARPA image
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