Your Labels are Selling You Out: Relation Leaks in Vertical Federated Learning

Pengyu Qiu, Xuhong Zhang, Shouling Ji, Tianyu Du, Yuwen Pu, Jun Zhou, Ting Wang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Vertical federated learning (VFL) is an emerging privacy-preserving paradigm that enables collaboration between companies. These companies have the same set of users but different features. One of them is interested in expanding new business or improving its current service with others' features. For instance, an e-commerce company, who wants to improve its recommendation performance, can incorporate users' preferences from another corporation such as a social media company through VFL. On the other hand, graph data is a powerful and sensitive type of data widely used in industry. Their leakage, e.g., the node leakage and/or the relation leakage, can cause severe privacy issues and financial loss. Therefore, protecting the security of graph data is important in practice. Though a line of work has studied how to learn with graph data in VFL, the privacy risks remain underexplored. In this paper, we perform the first systematic study on relation inference attacks to reveal VFL's risk of leaking samples' relations. Specifically, we assume the adversary to be a semi-honest participant. Then, according to the adversary's knowledge level, we formulate three kinds of attacks based on different intermediate representations. Particularly, we design a novel numerical approximation method to handle VFL's encryption mechanism on the participant's representations. Extensive evaluations with four real-world datasets demonstrate the effectiveness of our attacks. For instance, the area under curve of relation inference can reach more than 90%, implying an impressive relation inference capability. Furthermore, we evaluate possible defenses to examine our attacks' robustness. The results show that their impacts are limited. Our work highlights the need for advanced defenses to protect private relations and calls for more exploration of VFL's privacy and security issues.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3653-3668
Number of pages16
JournalIEEE Transactions on Dependable and Secure Computing
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Computer Science
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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