Spatiotemporally Constrained Action Space Attacks on Deep Reinforcement Learning Agents

  • Xian Yeow Lee Iowa State University
  • Sambit Ghadai Iowa State University
  • Kai Liang Tan Iowa State University
  • Chinmay Hegde New York University
  • Soumik Sarkar Iowa State University


Robustness of Deep Reinforcement Learning (DRL) algorithms towards adversarial attacks in real world applications such as those deployed in cyber-physical systems (CPS) are of increasing concern. Numerous studies have investigated the mechanisms of attacks on the RL agent's state space. Nonetheless, attacks on the RL agent's action space (corresponding to actuators in engineering systems) are equally perverse, but such attacks are relatively less studied in the ML literature. In this work, we first frame the problem as an optimization problem of minimizing the cumulative reward of an RL agent with decoupled constraints as the budget of attack. We propose the white-box Myopic Action Space (MAS) attack algorithm that distributes the attacks across the action space dimensions. Next, we reformulate the optimization problem above with the same objective function, but with a temporally coupled constraint on the attack budget to take into account the approximated dynamics of the agent. This leads to the white-box Look-ahead Action Space (LAS) attack algorithm that distributes the attacks across the action and temporal dimensions. Our results showed that using the same amount of resources, the LAS attack deteriorates the agent's performance significantly more than the MAS attack. This reveals the possibility that with limited resource, an adversary can utilize the agent's dynamics to malevolently craft attacks that causes the agent to fail. Additionally, we leverage these attack strategies as a possible tool to gain insights on the potential vulnerabilities of DRL agents.

AAAI Technical Track: Machine Learning