On the benefits of knowledge distillation for adversarial robustness


Knowledge distillation is normally used to compress a big network, or teacher, onto a smaller one, the student, by training it to match its outputs. Recently, some works have shown that robustness against adversarial attacks can also be distilled effectively to achieve good rates of robustness on mobile-friendly models. In this work, however, we take a different point of view, and show that knowledge distillation can be used directly to boost the performance of state-of-the-art models in adversarial robustness. In this sense, we present a thorough analysis and provide general guidelines to distill knowledge from a robust teacher and boost the clean and adversarial performance of a student model even further. To that end, we present Adversarial Knowledge Distillation (AKD), a new framework to improve a model’s robust performance, consisting on adversarially training a student on a mixture of the original labels and the teacher outputs. Through carefully controlled ablation studies, we show that using early-stopping, model ensembles and weak adversarial training are key techniques to maximize performance of the student, and show that these insights generalize across different robust distillation techniques. Finally, we provide insights on the effect of robust knowledge distillation on the dynamics of the student network, and show that AKD mostly improves the calibration of the network and modify its training dynamics on samples that the model finds difficult to learn, or even memorize.

Preprint (arXiv)