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Free-rider Attacks on Model Aggregation in Federated Learning

Yann Fraboni · Richard Vidal · Marco Lorenzi

Keywords: [ Applications ] [ Computer Vision ] [ Ethics and Safety ] [ Privacy-preserving Statistics and Machine Learning ]


Free-rider attacks against federated learning consist in dissimulating participation to the federated learning process with the goal of obtaining the final aggregated model without actually contributing with any data. This kind of attacks are critical in sensitive applications of federated learning when data is scarce and the model has high commercial value. We introduce here the first theoretical and experimental analysis of free-rider attacks on federated learning schemes based on iterative parameters aggregation, such as FedAvg or FedProx, and provide formal guarantees for these attacks to converge to the aggregated models of the fair participants. We first show that a straightforward implementation of this attack can be simply achieved by not updating the local parameters during the iterative federated optimization. As this attack can be detected by adopting simple countermeasures at the server level, we subsequently study more complex disguising schemes based on stochastic updates of the free-rider parameters. We demonstrate the proposed strategies on a number of experimental scenarios, in both iid and non-iid settings. We conclude by providing recommendations to avoid free-rider attacks in real world applications of federated learning, especially in sensitive domains where security of data and models is critical.

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