Every Vote Counts: Ranking-Based Training of Federated Learning to Resist Poisoning Attacks


Hamid Mozaffari, Virat Shejwalkar, and Amir Houmansadr, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Federated learning (FL) allows untrusted clients to collaboratively train a common machine learning model, called global model, without sharing their private/proprietary training data. However, FL is susceptible to poisoning by malicious clients who aim to hamper the accuracy of the global model by contributing malicious updates during FL's training process.

We argue that the key factor to the success of poisoning attacks against existing FL systems is the large space of model updates available to the clients to choose from. To address this, we propose Federated Rank Learning (FRL). FRL reduces the space of client updates from model parameter updates (a continuous space of float numbers) in standard FL to the space of parameter rankings (a discrete space of integer values). To be able to train the global model using parameter ranks (instead of parameter weights), FRL leverage ideas from recent supermasks training mechanisms. Specifically, FRL clients rank the parameters of a randomly initialized neural network (provided by the server) based on their local training data, and the FRL server uses a voting mechanism to aggregate the parameter rankings submitted by the clients.

Intuitively, our voting-based aggregation mechanism prevents poisoning clients from making significant adversarial modifications to the global model, as each client will have a single vote! We demonstrate the robustness of FRL to poisoning through analytical proofs and experimentation, and we show its high communication efficiency.

Open Access Media

USENIX is committed to Open Access to the research presented at our events. Papers and proceedings are freely available to everyone once the event begins. Any video, audio, and/or slides that are posted after the event are also free and open to everyone. Support USENIX and our commitment to Open Access.

@inproceedings {287338,
author = {Hamid Mozaffari and Virat Shejwalkar and Amir Houmansadr},
title = {Every Vote Counts: {Ranking-Based} Training of Federated Learning to Resist Poisoning Attacks},
booktitle = {32nd USENIX Security Symposium (USENIX Security 23)},
year = {2023},
isbn = {978-1-939133-37-3},
address = {Anaheim, CA},
pages = {1721--1738},
url = {https://www.usenix.org/conference/usenixsecurity23/presentation/mozaffari},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = aug