Policy Teaching via Environment Poisoning: Training-time Adversarial Attacks against Reinforcement Learning

Jul 12, 2020

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We study a security threat to reinforcement learning where an attacker poisons the learning environment to force the agent into executing a target policy chosen by the attacker. As a victim, we consider RL agents whose objective is to find a policy that maximizes average reward in undiscounted infinite-horizon problem settings. The attacker can manipulate the rewards or the transition dynamics in the learning environment at training-time and is interested in doing so in a stealthy manner. We propose an optimization framework for finding an optimal stealthy attack for different measures of attack cost. We provide sufficient technical conditions under which the attack is feasible and provide lower/upper bounds on the attack cost. We instantiate our attacks in two settings: (i) an offline setting where the agent is doing planning in the poisoned environment, and (ii) an online setting where the agent is learning a policy using a regret-minimization framework with poisoned feedback. Our results show that the attacker can easily succeed in teaching any target policy to the victim under mild conditions and highlight a significant security threat to reinforcement learning agents in practice.

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About ICML 2020

The International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML) is the premier gathering of professionals dedicated to the advancement of the branch of artificial intelligence known as machine learning. ICML is globally renowned for presenting and publishing cutting-edge research on all aspects of machine learning used in closely related areas like artificial intelligence, statistics and data science, as well as important application areas such as machine vision, computational biology, speech recognition, and robotics. ICML is one of the fastest growing artificial intelligence conferences in the world. Participants at ICML span a wide range of backgrounds, from academic and industrial researchers, to entrepreneurs and engineers, to graduate students and postdocs.

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