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Constrained Optimization with Dynamic Bound-scaling for Effective NLP Backdoor Defense

Guangyu Shen · Yingqi Liu · Guanhong Tao · Qiuling Xu · ZHUO ZHANG · Shengwei An · Shiqing Ma · Xiangyu Zhang

Hall E #109

Keywords: [ DL: Robustness ] [ APP: Language, Speech and Dialog ]


Modern language models are vulnerable to backdoor attacks. An injected malicious token sequence (i.e., a trigger) can cause the compromised model to misbehave, raising security concerns. Trigger inversion is a widely-used technique for scanning backdoors in vision models. It can- not be directly applied to NLP models due to their discrete nature. In this paper, we develop a novel optimization method for NLP backdoor inversion. We leverage a dynamically reducing temperature coefficient in the softmax function to provide changing loss landscapes to the optimizer such that the process gradually focuses on the ground truth trigger, which is denoted as a one-hot value in a convex hull. Our method also features a temperature rollback mechanism to step away from local optimals, exploiting the observation that local optimals can be easily determined in NLP trigger inversion (while not in general optimization). We evaluate the technique on over 1600 models (with roughly half of them having injected backdoors) on 3 prevailing NLP tasks, with 4 different backdoor attacks and 7 architectures. Our results show that the technique is able to effectively and efficiently detect and remove backdoors, outperforming 5 baseline methods. The code is available at https: //

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