Do Gradient-based Explanations Tell Anything About Adversarial Robustness to Android Malware?

While machine-learning algorithms have demonstrated a strong ability in detecting Android malware, they can be evaded by sparse evasion attacks crafted by injecting a small set of fake components, e.g., permissions and system calls, without compromising intrusive functionality. Previous work has shown that, to improve robustness against such attacks, learning algorithms should avoid overemphasizing few discriminant features, providing instead decisions that rely upon a large subset of components. In this work, we investigate whether gradient-based attribution methods, used to explain classifiers' decisions by identifying the most relevant features, can be used to help identify and select more robust algorithms. To this end, we propose to exploit two different metrics that represent the evenness of explanations, and a new compact security measure called Adversarial Robustness Metric. Our experiments conducted on two different datasets and five classification algorithms for Android malware detection show that a strong connection exists between the uniformity of explanations and adversarial robustness. In particular, we found that popular techniques like Gradient*Input and Integrated Gradients are strongly correlated to security when applied to both linear and nonlinear detectors, while more elementary explanation techniques like the simple Gradient do not provide reliable information about the robustness of such classifiers.

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