Robust Prompt Optimization for Defending Language Models Against Jailbreaking Attacks


Despite advances in AI alignment, language models (LM) remain vulnerable to adversarial attacks or jailbreaking, in which adversaries modify input prompts to induce harmful behavior. While some defenses have been proposed, they focus on narrow threat models and fall short of a strong defense, which we posit should be effective, universal, and practical. To achieve this, we propose the first adversarial objective for defending LMs against jailbreaking attacks and an algorithm, robust prompt optimization (RPO), that uses gradient-based token optimization to enforce harmless outputs. This results in an easily accessible suffix that significantly improves robustness to both jailbreaks seen during optimization and unknown, held-out jailbreaks, reducing the attack success rate on Starling-7B from 84% to 8.66% across 20 jailbreaks. In addition, we find that RPO has a minor effect on normal LM use, is successful under adaptive attacks, and can transfer to black-box models, reducing the success rate of the strongest attack on GPT-4 from 92% to 6%.

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