"Is your explanation stable?": A Robustness Evaluation Framework for Feature Attribution

Yuyou Gan, Yuhao Mao, Xuhong Zhang, Shouling Ji, Yuwen Pu, Meng Han, Jianwei Yin, Ting Wang

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

8 Scopus citations


Neural networks have become increasingly popular. Nevertheless, understanding their decision process turns out to be complicated. One vital method to explain a models' behavior is feature attribution, i.e., attributing its decision to pivotal features. Although many algorithms are proposed, most of them aim to improve the faithfulness (fidelity) to the model. However, the real environment contains many random noises, which may cause the feature attribution maps to be greatly perturbed for similar images. More seriously, recent works show that explanation algorithms are vulnerable to adversarial attacks, generating the same explanation for a maliciously perturbed input. All of these make the explanation hard to trust in real scenarios, especially in security-critical applications. To bridge this gap, we propose Median Test for Feature Attribution (MeTFA) to quantify the uncertainty and increase the stability of explanation algorithms with theoretical guarantees. MeTFA is method-agnostic, i.e., it can be applied to any feature attribution method. MeTFA has the following two functions: (1) examine whether one feature is significantly important or unimportant and generate a MeTFA-significant map to visualize the results; (2) compute the confidence interval of a feature attribution score and generate a MeTFA-smoothed map to increase the stability of the explanation. Extensive experiments show that MeTFA improves the visual quality of explanations and significantly reduces the instability while maintaining the faithfulness of the original method. To quantitatively evaluate MeTFA's faithfulness and stability, we further propose several robust faithfulness metrics, which can evaluate the faithfulness of an explanation under different noise settings. Experiment results show that the MeTFA-smoothed explanation can significantly increase the robust faithfulness. In addition, we use two typical applications to show MeTFA's potential in the applications. First, when being applied to the SOTA explanation method to locate context bias for semantic segmentation models, MeTFA-significant explanations use far smaller regions to maintain 99%+ faithfulness. Second, when testing with different explanation-oriented attacks, MeTFA can help defend vanilla, as well as adaptive, adversarial attacks against explanations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCCS 2022 - Proceedings of the 2022 ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security
PublisherAssociation for Computing Machinery
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781450394505
StatePublished - Nov 7 2022
Event28th ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security, CCS 2022 - Los Angeles, United States
Duration: Nov 7 2022Nov 11 2022

Publication series

NameProceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security
ISSN (Print)1543-7221


Conference28th ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security, CCS 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityLos Angeles

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software
  • Computer Networks and Communications


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