Inverting Gradients - How easy is it to break privacy in federated learning?

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 33 (NeurIPS 2020)

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Jonas Geiping, Hartmut Bauermeister, Hannah Dröge, Michael Moeller


The idea of federated learning is to collaboratively train a neural network on a server. Each user receives the current weights of the network and in turns sends parameter updates (gradients) based on local data. This protocol has been designed not only to train neural networks data-efficiently, but also to provide privacy benefits for users, as their input data remains on device and only parameter gradients are shared. But how secure is sharing parameter gradients? Previous attacks have provided a false sense of security, by succeeding only in contrived settings - even for a single image. However, by exploiting a magnitude-invariant loss along with optimization strategies based on adversarial attacks, we show that is is actually possible to faithfully reconstruct images at high resolution from the knowledge of their parameter gradients, and demonstrate that such a break of privacy is possible even for trained deep networks. We analyze the effects of architecture as well as parameters on the difficulty of reconstructing an input image and prove that any input to a fully connected layer can be reconstructed analytically independent of the remaining architecture. Finally we discuss settings encountered in practice and show that even averaging gradients over several iterations or several images does not protect the user's privacy in federated learning applications.