ELSA: Secure Aggregation for Federated Learning with Malicious Actors


Mayank Rathee
UC Berkeley


Alexandra Henzinger
Federated learning (FL) is an increasingly popular approach for machine learning (ML) when the training dataset is highly distributed. Clients perform local training on their datasets and the updates are then aggregated into the global model. Existing protocols for aggregation are either inefficient or don’t consider the case of malicious actors in the system. This is a major barrier to making FL an ideal solution for privacy-sensitive ML applications.

In this talk, I will present ELSA, a secure aggregation protocol for FL that breaks this barrier - it is efficient and addresses the existence of malicious actors (clients + servers) at the core of its design. Similar to prior work Prio and Prio+, ELSA provides a novel secure aggregation protocol built out of distributed trust across two servers that keeps individual client updates private as long as one server is honest, defends against malicious clients, and is efficient end-to-end. Compared to prior works, the distinguishing theme in ELSA is that instead of the servers generating cryptographic correlations interactively, the clients act as untrusted dealers of these correlations without compromising the protocol’s security. This leads to a much faster protocol while also achieving stronger security at that efficiency compared to prior work. We introduce new techniques that retain privacy even when a server is malicious at a small added cost of 7-25% in runtime with a negligible increase in communication over the case of a semi-honest server.

ELSA improves end-to-end runtime over prior work with similar security guarantees by big margins - single-aggregator RoFL by up to 305x (for the models we consider), and distributed-trust Prio by up to 8x (with up to 16x faster server-side protocol). Additionally, ELSA can be run in a bandwidth-saver mode for clients who are geographically bandwidth-constrained - an important property that is missing from prior works.

Based on joint work with Conghao Shen, Sameer Wagh, and Raluca Ada Popa.