Topic-oriented Adversarial Attacks against Black-box Neural Ranking Models

by   Yu-An Liu, et al.

Neural ranking models (NRMs) have attracted considerable attention in information retrieval. Unfortunately, NRMs may inherit the adversarial vulnerabilities of general neural networks, which might be leveraged by black-hat search engine optimization practitioners. Recently, adversarial attacks against NRMs have been explored in the paired attack setting, generating an adversarial perturbation to a target document for a specific query. In this paper, we focus on a more general type of perturbation and introduce the topic-oriented adversarial ranking attack task against NRMs, which aims to find an imperceptible perturbation that can promote a target document in ranking for a group of queries with the same topic. We define both static and dynamic settings for the task and focus on decision-based black-box attacks. We propose a novel framework to improve topic-oriented attack performance based on a surrogate ranking model. The attack problem is formalized as a Markov decision process (MDP) and addressed using reinforcement learning. Specifically, a topic-oriented reward function guides the policy to find a successful adversarial example that can be promoted in rankings to as many queries as possible in a group. Experimental results demonstrate that the proposed framework can significantly outperform existing attack strategies, and we conclude by re-iterating that there exist potential risks for applying NRMs in the real world.


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