Transferability of features for neural networks links to adversarial attacks and defences

Shashank Kotyan, Moe Matsuki, Danilo Vasconcellos Vargas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The reason for the existence of adversarial samples is still barely understood. Here, we explore the transferability of learned features to Out-of-Distribution (OoD) classes. We do this by assessing neural networks’ capability to encode the existing features, revealing an intriguing connection with adversarial attacks and defences. The principal idea is that, “if an algorithm learns rich features, such features should represent Out-of-Distribution classes as a combination of previously learned In-Distribution (ID) classes”. This is because OoD classes usually share several regular features with ID classes, given that the features learned are general enough. We further introduce two metrics to assess the transferred features representing OoD classes. One is based on inter-cluster validation techniques, while the other captures the influence of a class over learned features. Experiments suggest that several adversarial defences decrease the attack accuracy of some attacks and improve the transferability-of-features as measured by our metrics. Experiments also reveal a relationship between the proposed metrics and adversarial attacks (a high Pearson correlation coefficient and low p-value). Further, statistical tests suggest that several adversarial defences, in general, significantly improve transferability. Our tests suggests that models having a higher transferability-of-features have generally higher robustness against adversarial attacks. Thus, the experiments suggest that the objectives of adversarial machine learning might be much closer to domain transfer learning, as previously thought.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0266060
JournalPloS one
Issue number4 April
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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