Fake or Compromised? Making Sense of Malicious Clients in Federated Learning


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Federated learning (FL) is a distributed machine learning paradigm that enables training models on decentralized data. The field of FL security against poisoning attacks is plagued with confusion due to the proliferation of research that makes different assumptions about the capabilities of adversaries and the adversary models they operate under. Our work aims to clarify this confusion by presenting a comprehensive analysis of the various poisoning attacks and defensive aggregation rules (AGRs) proposed in the literature, and connecting them under a common framework. To connect existing adversary models, we present a hybrid adversary model, which lies in the middle of the spectrum of adversaries, where the adversary compromises a few clients, trains a generative (e.g., DDPM) model with their compromised samples, and generates new synthetic data to solve an optimization for a stronger (e.g., cheaper, more practical) attack against different robust aggregation rules. By presenting the spectrum of FL adversaries, we aim to provide practitioners and researchers with a clear understanding of the different types of threats they need to consider when designing FL systems, and identify areas where further research is needed.
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