Adaptive Reward-Poisoning Attacks against Reinforcement Learning

Part of Proceedings of the International Conference on Machine Learning 1 pre-proceedings (ICML 2020)

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Xuezhou Zhang, Yuzhe Ma, Adish Singla, Jerry Zhu


In reward-poisoning attacks against reinforcement learning (RL), an attacker can perturb the environment reward $r_t$ into $r_t+\delta_t$ at each step, with the goal of forcing the RL agent to learn a nefarious policy. We categorize such attacks by the infinity-norm constraint on $\delta_t$: We provide a lower threshold below which reward-poisoning attack is infeasible and RL is certified to be safe; we provide a corresponding upper threshold above which the attack is feasible. Feasible attacks can be further categorized as non-adaptive where $\delta_t$ depends only on $(s_t,a_t, s_{t+1})$, or adaptive where $\delta_t$ depends further on the RL agent's learning process at time $t$. Non-adaptive attacks have been the focus of prior works. However, we show that under mild conditions, adaptive attacks can achieve the nefarious policy in steps polynomial in state-space size $|S|$, whereas non-adaptive attacks require exponential steps. We provide a constructive proof that a Fast Adaptive Attack strategy achieves the polynomial rate. Finally, we show that empirically an attacker can find effective reward-poisoning attacks using state-of-the-art deep RL techniques.