Investigating Membership Inference Attacks under Data Dependencies

Training machine learning models on privacy-sensitive data has become a popular practice, driving innovation in ever-expanding fields. This has opened the door to new attacks that can have serious privacy implications. One such attack, the Membership Inference Attack (MIA), exposes whether or not a particular data point was used to train a model. A growing body of literature uses Differentially Private (DP) training algorithms as a defence against such attacks. However, these works evaluate the defence under the restrictive assumption that all members of the training set, as well as non-members, are independent and identically distributed. This assumption does not hold for many real-world use cases in the literature. Motivated by this, we evaluate membership inference with statistical dependencies among samples and explain why DP does not provide meaningful protection (the privacy parameter $\epsilon$ scales with the training set size $n$) in this more general case. We conduct a series of empirical evaluations with off-the-shelf MIAs using training sets built from real-world data showing different types of dependencies among samples. Our results reveal that training set dependencies can severely increase the performance of MIAs, and therefore assuming that data samples are statistically independent can significantly underestimate the performance of MIAs.

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