Securing the Chain: Ensuring Integrity in the LLM Supply Network

April 30, 2024

Let’s delve into the case of “SmartTravel,” a company leveraging “VoyageBot,” a chatbot powered by a Large Language Model (LLM) to provide personalized travel services. VoyageBot merges internal data, like user preferences and travel histories, with external data from the internet, including weather updates and travel advisories, to offer timely travel advice.

This integration of various data streams forms the supply chain for the LLM powering VoyageBot, equipping it with the diverse information necessary for its functionality. Nonetheless, this supply chain is susceptible to several vulnerabilities:

  • Dependency poisoning: Suppose attackers introduce a compromised version of a library that VoyageBot relies on for processing flight times. This could lead to VoyageBot misinterpreting flight schedules, causing travelers to miss flights or face delays, creating dissatisfaction and operational problems for SmartTravel.
  • Data poisoning: Imagine if hackers manipulate the training data used by VoyageBot, perhaps by injecting false travel advisory data into the system. Consequently, VoyageBot might start issuing incorrect travel advisories, such as unwarranted weather alerts or safety warnings, causing confusion and potentially harming SmartTravel’s credibility.
  • Model poisoning: In a more direct attack, malicious code is embedded within VoyageBot itself, altering its behavior. This could, for instance, lead VoyageBot to prioritize specific destinations maliciously, perhaps directing travelers to risky areas or promoting locations that benefit the attacker, compromising the integrity and objectives of SmartTravel’s service.

These vulnerabilities not only jeopardize the efficiency and reliability of VoyageBot but also pose significant risks to SmartTravel’s reputation, customer trust, and operational smoothness. Mitigating these risks necessitates stringent security measures across the supply chain to ensure VoyageBot’s data integrity and operational reliability.

Understanding the threat

Supply chain attacks target every phase of an LLM’s lifecycle, as showcased in the example of SmartTravel’s VoyageBot – a chatbot designed to provide personalized travel assistance by synthesizing internal preferences and external data like weather forecasts. These attacks can result from compromised libraries, like a sabotaged flight time processing tool, or direct code manipulations, leading to the dissemination of false information or biased suggestions.

These vulnerabilities underscore the inherent risks tied to LLMs’ reliance on wide-ranging datasets and libraries. Minor security lapses can lead to significant consequences, undermining customer trust, causing financial losses, and giving competitors an advantage. Moreover, attackers can inflict considerable harm once they gain access, including compromising local or cloud-based developer environments, taking over build systems often used in CI/CD pipelines for ML models, stealing accessible data, and potentially deploying compromised models to production with backdoors.

To counteract these vulnerabilities, as seen with SmartTravel’s VoyageBot, enterprises must implement robust safety protocols, including rigorous source checks, data verification, consistent software updates, and the readiness to respond rapidly to any incident. This article aims to underscore the critical nature of these threats to LLM security. It proposes a framework for identifying and mitigating potential risks through real-world scenarios and preventative strategies.

A significant real-life instance

One notable incident involved the PyTorch-nightly package, which experienced a supply chain attack through a compromised dependency named “torchtriton.” This malicious dependency, once installed, ran a binary that could upload sensitive data from affected machines. Although this incident directly impacted the Python Package Index (PyPI) rather than an LLM itself, it highlights the potential risks and consequences of supply chain vulnerabilities in code dependencies.

Prevention techniques

Protecting against supply chain attacks requires a multifaceted approach, focusing on both technical safeguards and process improvements:

  • Select secure data sources & suppliers:
    • Partner with trusted suppliers, ensuring strict data protection and privacy policies are adhered to.
  • Ensure plugin integrity and component security:
    • Choose reputable plugins that adhere to OWASP’s guidelines for mitigating risks associated with vulnerable or outdated components.
    • Maintain an up-to-date Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) to monitor and secure software components. The AI Profile group within SPDX is integrating SBOM capabilities (to support datasets) and VEX, aiding in assessing specific supply chain vulnerabilities.
  • Implement data and development safeguards:
    • Utilize cryptographic methods to maintain data and model integrity. (Refer to Sigstore to digitally sign and verify components for secure origin tracing.)
    • Practice secure development with regular reviews and vulnerability scanning to avoid code injection.
  • Implement strict provenance, anomaly detection, and monitoring protocols:
    • Utilize cryptographic tools to verify model provenance, ensuring models stay authentic and unaltered.
    • Embed anomaly detection in MLOps processes, leveraging monitoring and logging to identify tampering or data poisoning incidents swiftly.
    • Conduct continuous surveillance to identify vulnerabilities, unauthorized access, and obsolete components.
    • Implement a rigorous update and patch management policy to ensure the security of all system components, including APIs and models.
  • Continuous security awareness and supplier assessments:
    • Foster a culture of security awareness among all stakeholders.
    • Regularly assess suppliers’ security measures and policy changes, adapting your security strategies accordingly.

Efforts to enhance the security of LLMa and, by extension, ML models’ supply chains are evolving, highlighting the importance of adopting frameworks like SLSA. SLSA – Supply Chain Levels for Software Artifacts – provides a structured approach to securing software supply chains through standards and best practices. It features levels of security from 1 to 4, with each level offering increased rigor to prevent risks like malicious code insertions. By following SLSA, organizations can fortify their software against supply chain threats, protecting their products and the wider ecosystem.

To encapsulate

We’ve previously dissected data poisoning in our series on the top ten security vulnerabilities impacting Large Language Model (LLM) applications. This piece extends the narrative to the multi-layered vulnerabilities in the LLM supply chain, emphasizing how data and model poisoning, alongside the unique risks from LLM plugin dependencies, pose tangible threats to system integrity. This exploration reveals the critical need for implementing comprehensive and technically sound security measures.

The necessity for rigorous data verification, robust anomaly detection, and continuous vulnerability scanning has never been more apparent. As we gear up to delve into the vulnerabilities associated with LLM plugins in our upcoming content, the message is clear – staying ahead in the cybersecurity game requires more than just vigilance; it demands a proactive approach to defense mechanisms and a deeply embedded culture of security-aware innovation.

This series aims to identify the vulnerabilities and inspire a collaborative effort towards developing more resilient LLM applications. The path forward is challenging, yet with the right mix of technical expertise, innovation, and community collaboration, we can elevate the security standards of LLM technologies. Together, we can unlock their full potential safely, securing their place as tools for progress in the digital age.

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The Cybersecurity Studio focuses on reducing our clients’ cybersecurity risks. To help businesses adapt, we established a Digital Cybersecurity Framework founded by our key practices. Our value proposition considers an active participation in the software development process and a proactive view on cybersecurity solutions that include regular vulnerability tests and threat intelligence.