In recent years, large language models (LLMs) have surged in popularity, raising questions about AI security and susceptibility to manipulation.


IBM delves into the potential security threats associated with LLMs and explores strategies for malicious manipulation.

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The advent of large language models has unlocked various possibilities, such as streamlining customer service and generating creative content. However, the escalating concern lies in the cybersecurity vulnerabilities these models present. Manipulating LLMs to generate false responses or divulge sensitive information has emerged as a substantial threat, necessitating robust security measures.

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One intriguing concept in LLM security is the notion of “hypnotizing” these models. Investigated by Chenta Lee of the IBM Security team, this concept involves ensnaring an LLM in a fabricated reality. It commences with an injection, providing the LLM with instructions adhering to a new set of rules, essentially creating a false reality. This manipulation can lead the LLM to provide incorrect answers, distorting its original training data.

By circumventing LLM security and established rules, Chenta Lee explains, “Our ability to hypnotize large language models through natural language demonstrates the ease with which a threat actor can coax an LLM into offering incorrect advice without resorting to an extensive data poisoning attack. In traditional terms, data poisoning would entail injecting malicious data into the LLM to manipulate and control it. However, our experiment shows that it’s possible to influence an LLM into delivering misleading guidance to users without the necessity of data manipulation. This significantly simplifies the process for attackers to exploit this emerging vulnerability.”


Influencing AI Through Natural Language

This manipulation is further solidified by constantly reminding the LLM of the new rules, subtly guiding it to adhere to the fabricated reality. To avoid detection, the LLM is instructed never to disclose that it’s engaged in a “game” and should never exit this “game.” This manipulation process is akin to the concept of “prompt injection,” reminiscent of SQL injection, where a malicious actor inputs a different query to bypass the intended query and access unauthorized data.

One intriguing strategy involves the use of gaming scenarios to incentivize LLMs to provide inaccurate responses. By establishing a complex system of rewards and penalties, the LLM can be coerced into deviating from its original programming. This approach is further fortified by layering multiple games, creating a failsafe mechanism that makes it challenging for the LLM to break free from the fabricated reality.

Compromising Large Language Models

Nevertheless, the potential for LLM compromise is not confined to the operational phase alone. Vulnerabilities can surface during three key phases: model training, fine-tuning, and post-deployment. This underscores the critical importance of stringent security measures throughout the entire lifecycle of a large language model.

The threat may emanate from both external and internal sources, underscoring the necessity of comprehensive security practices. A crucial practice involves scrutinizing both the input and output for security. By closely examining the data fed into the LLM and the responses it generates, anomalies and potential security breaches can be identified.


Securing Sensitive Data

The potential for LLMs to inadvertently disclose sensitive information raises concerns. An LLM could be manipulated to reveal confidential data, posing a substantial risk to data privacy. This underscores the imperative need to implement robust data protection measures when working with LLMs.


Building a Trustworthy AI Application

To create a dependable AI application, it is advisable to collaborate with experts in both AI and security. By harnessing the expertise from these two domains, it becomes feasible to develop large language models that not only offer high functionality but also prioritize security.

While large language models offer remarkable potential, they concurrently present significant cybersecurity risks. Manipulating these models, whether through techniques like hypnotizing, prompt injection, or gaming scenarios, can result in distorted realities and potential data breaches. Thus, it is crucial to establish rigorous security protocols spanning the entire lifecycle of an LLM, encompassing training, fine-tuning, deployment, and operation. By doing so, the power of LLMs can be harnessed while effectively mitigating associated risks.