What is Adversarial Training in Lay Mans Terms? And How Does it Help Preventing Adversarial Attacks?

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have become integral parts of our daily lives. From virtual assistants to recommender systems, AI is powering many of the services and applications we use every day. However, as the use of AI grows, so do concerns about its security vulnerabilities. The OWASP team has published its first version of OWASP Top 10 for LLM, especially for AI applications powered by LLMs.

One such concern is that of adversarial attacks. Adversarial attacks aim to fool AI systems by supplying deceptively modified inputs. This can cause the AI to misclassify or misinterpret the perturbed input. For instance, adding some nearly imperceptible noise to an image can make an AI system misclassify it completely.

Defending against such attacks is critical for building robust and trustworthy AI systems. This is where adversarial training comes into the picture. In this blog, we will demystify adversarial training and see how it helps make AI more resilient to adversarial attacks.

Before we jump directly onto adversarial training, let’s learn about adversarial machine learning commonly called adversarial attacks. Let’s start this blog post by learning about the common security challenges in the AI models.

Common Security Challenges and Concerns in AI Models

Recent years have seen a tremendous growth in AI adoption. AI now plays a pivotal role across diverse domains including healthcare, finance, transportation, defense and more. However, as AI becomes ubiquitous, adversaries are finding new ways to exploit and attack AI systems. Some key concerns around AI security include:

  • Data poisoning attacks: Attackers can manipulate training data to intentionally corrupt the AI model. For instance, adding wrongly labeled data can degrade model accuracy.
  • Evasion attacks: Attacks designed to evade model detection by supplying adversarially crafted inputs. These imperceptible perturbations can lead to incorrect model predictions.
  • Model extraction attacks: Attackers may attempt to steal AI model information by probing its inputs and outputs. The stolen model can then be used to mount further attacks.
  • Decision boundary attacks: Finding blindspots in an AI model’s decision boundaries that can be exploited to cause misclassifications.

These attacks highlight that like any computing system, AI too has its vulnerabilities. Building security into AI systems right from the design stage is crucial today.

What is Adversarial Machine Learning or Adversarial Attack?

In adversarial machine learning, attackers aim to fool the AI model by supplying deceptive inputs that are intentionally designed to cause mispredictions. These modified inputs are called adversarial examples.

What is Adversarial Machine Learning or Adversarial Attack

In this example, adding an imperceptible amount of noise completely fools the model into misclassifying the panda image as a gibbon.

Adversarial attacks exploit the fact that current AI systems are vulnerable to minor perturbations of the original input. The key properties of adversarial examples are:

  • They are generated by making small intentional changes to the input. This could be adding noise, pixel-level modifications, etc. that are imperceptible to humans.
  • They reliably fool the AI system into giving incorrect outputs while appearing normal to human observers.
  • They transfer across different models. An adversarial example crafted to fool one model is likely to deceive other models as well.
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Researchers have devised various algorithms and techniques to systematically generate such adversarial inputs. This exposes the brittleness in modern AI systems when confronted with deliberately misleading data.

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Types of Adversarial Attacks

There is a diverse spectrum of adversarial attack techniques and strategies, but most can be classified into three broad categories:

Evasion Attacks

In evasion attacks, the adversarial examples are designed to avoid detection by the AI model. The goal is to have the model misclassify or misinterpret the perturbed input. For image classifiers, this could involve adding small pixel-level noise that leads to mislabeling the image.

Poisoning Attacks

Here the attacker injects adversarial data into the model’s training process. This data poisoning causes the model to learn incorrect relationships, degrading its performance. For instance, intentionally mislabeling training images can reduce classification accuracy.

Model Extraction Attacks

These attacks aim to duplicate the functionality of a target AI model. The adversary queries the model with chosen inputs and observes the outputs. By analyzing these input-output pairs, the model’s parameters, architecture, and decision boundaries can be approximated. The extracted model can then be used to craft better attacks or stolen for competitive advantage.

What is Adversarial Training and How Does it Work?

'How Does Adversarial Training Work

Adversarial training is a technique designed to improve model robustness and resilience against adversarial attacks. It works by augmenting the training data with adversarial examples.

The key steps are:

  1. Take the original training dataset comprising normal examples.
  2. Use adversarial attack algorithms to generate adversarial examples that fool the model. This augmented dataset now has both clean and adversarial data.
  3. Retrain the model on this enhanced dataset containing both legitimate and adversarial examples.

Training on adversarially crafted data teaches the model to correctly classify even perturbed inputs. It encourages the AI to learn more generalizable features that rely less on superficial patterns that can be easily fooled.

In effect, adversarial training immunizes the model by exposing it to adversarial attacks during the training phase itself. This regularization makes the model more robust when confronted with similar adversarial inputs post-deployment.

Several algorithms like FGSM, PGD, etc. are used to systematically generate adversarial examples for training data augmentation. The adversarial robustness of the retrained model is measured using robust accuracy metrics.

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How Does Adversarial Training Helps Preventing Adversarial Attacks?

Adversarial training is one of the few techniques that has proven successful at defending against adversarial attacks. Here are some of the ways it helps:

  • It makes the decision boundaries learned by the model more robust and resistant to perturbations. Training on adversarial data reduces the sensitivity to minor input changes that adversaries exploit.
  • The inclusion of adversarial examples leads to learning features that generalize better for both clean and perturbed inputs. This prevents reliance on superficial patterns.
  • It teaches the model to assign consistent labels even for modified inputs that are close to the original training data.
  • Crafting adversarial data and retraining is a form of data augmentation. It provides regularization and additional resistance against overfitting on clean data.
  • Retraining makes the model unlearn wrong associations made during initial training. Model plasticity helps overwrite wrong correlations using the enhanced training set.
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In essence, adversarial training makes model behavior more invariant to meaningless perturbations in its inputs. This consistency and stability improves robustness against adversarial attacks during real-world deployment.

Benefits of Implementing Adversarial Training

Here are some key benefits of incorporating adversarial training as part of the model development process:

  • Enhanced model resilience: Adversarial training leads to more robust models that can withstand a wider range of adversarial attacks. It reduces model exploitation risks.
  • Improved reliability: The model will have higher accuracy and consistency even on noisy or perturbed data similar to adversarial attacks.
  • Increased security: Hardening the model against threats enhances protection, reduces attack surface, and improves compliance.
  • Generalization: Training on adversarial data improves out-of-distribution generalization on unfamiliar data.
  • Model insights: Analyzing model behavior on adversarial data provides insights into potential vulnerabilities.
  • User trust: More robustness inspires greater end-user confidence and trust in the AI system.

In summary, adversarial training is a powerful paradigm that brings AI safety and reliability to the next level. It is one of the most effective empirical solutions to tackle adversarial attacks.

Strategies to Improve Adversarial Training

While adversarial training is a promising approach, some key aspects that can further boost its effectiveness are:

  • Ensemble adversarial training – Use an ensemble of models rather than a single model to craft adversarial data. This provides a diverse set of adversarial examples.
  • Iterative adversarial training – Progressively increase adversarial perturbation over multiple training iterations rather than a single step.
  • Combining defenses – Complement adversarial training with other defensive strategies like input reconstruction, model hardening, etc.
  • Model architectures – Use intrinsically robust model architectures like convolutional neural nets rather than linear models.
  • Advanced algorithms – Employ algorithms like PGD, DeepFool etc. that generate challenging adversarial samples.
  • Data diversity – Ensure model trains on varied, representative data including diversity of adversarial attacks.
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A good adversarial training methodology incorporates these enhancement strategies to maximize model resilience. Ongoing research also continues to further refine adversarial training.

Real World Use Cases: Where Adversarial Training Makes a Difference

Here are some domains where adversarial training has proven very impactful in bolstering AI security:

  • Autonomous vehicles – Self-driving cars rely heavily on computer vision for navigation. Adversarial training improves the robustness of perception models against adversarial images.
  • Healthcare – For medical diagnosis applications, adversarial training prevents the wrong diagnosis due to perturbed medical scans or imagery.
  • Biometrics – It improves the security of facial recognition, fingerprint authentication, and other biometrics against spoof attacks.
  • Aviation – Enhances reliability of air traffic control and collision avoidance systems against adversarial sensor inputs.
  • Defense – Hardens AI systems involved in surveillance, intrusion detection, and other national defense applications.
  • Finance – Useful for fraud detection, trading systems, loan approval, etc. where model resilience is paramount.

The applications span diverse domains where adversarial attacks may have severe repercussions. This highlights the growing importance of adversarial training for securing real-world AI systems.

Wrap Up

As AI becomes entrenched in critical processes and infrastructure, enhancing its security is the need of the hour. Adversarial attacks pose a major threat as minor perturbations can completely fool AI models. Adversarial training offers an effective empirical solution by training models on adversarial examples, improving their resilience.


The inclusion of adversarial data during training makes models more invariant and consistent to meaningless input changes. This improves reliability and reduces attack vulnerabilities. Industrial usage shows adversarial training significantly boosts model robustness against potential adversarial threats.

However, adversarial training alone is not enough. A multi-pronged strategy combining adversarial training, secure development practices, explainability, and monitoring is key to fully realizing AI’s transformative potential in a responsible manner.

With rapid advances in AI capabilities, building adversarial robustness will continue to be a pivotal research frontier. Adversarial training provides a solid foundation, paving the path for developing trustworthy and ethical AI systems that are not only smarter but also more secure.

We hope this post surves the purpose and becomes a good source of information for learning what is adversarial machine learning, types of attacks, and how adversarial training helps build robust models by exposing them to adversarial examples during training.

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