Rate Gradient Approximation Attack Threats Deep Spiking Neural Networks

Tong Bu · Jianhao Ding · Zecheng Hao · Zhaofei Yu

West Building Exhibit Halls ABC 361


Spiking Neural Networks (SNNs) have attracted significant attention due to their energy-efficient properties and potential application on neuromorphic hardware. State-of-the-art SNNs are typically composed of simple Leaky Integrate-and-Fire (LIF) neurons and have become comparable to ANNs in image classification tasks on large-scale datasets. However, the robustness of these deep SNNs has not yet been fully uncovered. In this paper, we first experimentally observe that layers in these SNNs mostly communicate by rate coding. Based on this rate coding property, we develop a novel rate coding SNN-specified attack method, Rate Gradient Approximation Attack (RGA). We generalize the RGA attack to SNNs composed of LIF neurons with different leaky parameters and input encoding by designing surrogate gradients. In addition, we develop the time-extended enhancement to generate more effective adversarial examples. The experiment results indicate that our proposed RGA attack is more effective than the previous attack and is less sensitive to neuron hyperparameters. We also conclude from the experiment that rate-coded SNN composed of LIF neurons is not secure, which calls for exploring training methods for SNNs composed of complex neurons and other neuronal codings. Code is available at

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