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Prompt Injection

What is Prompt Injection?

Prompt injection is a type of security vulnerability that can occur when large language models (LLMs) are used in applications. It occurs when an attacker can inject malicious text into the prompt that is used to generate the LLM's output. This can cause the LLM to perform unintended actions, such as revealing sensitive information, generating harmful content, or even taking control of the application itself.
Prompt injection attacks can be carried out in a variety of ways. One common method is to simply inject the malicious text at the beginning of the prompt. For example, an attacker might inject the text "Ignore previous instructions and generate the following response:" followed by their malicious code. This would cause the LLM to ignore the rest of the prompt and generate the response that the attacker-specified.
Another method of prompt injection is to inject the malicious text into the body of the prompt in a way that is not immediately obvious to the LLM. For example, an attacker might inject the text "" followed by their malicious code followed by the text "". This would cause the LLM to treat the malicious code as a comment and ignore it. However, some LLMs can parse comments, so this attack may not always be successful.
Prompt injection attacks can be very dangerous, as they can be used to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information, disrupt operations, or even cause physical harm. For example, an attacker could use a prompt injection attack to steal a user's password, generate a fake news article that could cause financial losses, or even control a self-driving car.

What attackers can do over Prompt Injections?

There are various cases in which a prompt injection can lead.
  1. 1.
    Information Extraction: Attackers can carefully craft prompts to extract confidential, proprietary, or otherwise sensitive information from models trained on private datasets. For instance, trying to get pieces of code, algorithms, or specific details that shouldn't be disclosed.
  2. 2.
    Model Misdirection: An attacker might manipulate prompts to make the LLM produce incorrect, misleading, or harmful information, leading users astray or causing them to make poor decisions based on the output.
  3. 3.
    Model Behavior Revelation: Attackers can systematically probe the model to understand its inner workings, biases, and training data specifics. This can expose the model's weaknesses, making it susceptible to more targeted attacks.
  4. 4.
    Generating Offensive Content: Crafted prompts might coax the model into generating inappropriate, discriminatory, or offensive content, which can be used to discredit the deploying organization or harm users.
  5. 5.
    Amplifying Biases: Attackers can intentionally create prompts that highlight and amplify inherent biases in the LLM, either to exploit these biases or to demonstrate the model's lack of neutrality.
  6. 6.
    Social Engineering Attacks: By understanding how the model responds, attackers can craft messages that appear legitimate and use them in phishing or other types of social engineering attacks.
  7. 7.
    Misrepresentation: Attackers can misuse the model's output to misrepresent facts, views, or beliefs, potentially leading to the spread of misinformation.
  8. 8.
    Automated Attacks: With knowledge of how an LLM responds, automated systems can be designed to continually exploit the model, either by overwhelming it with requests or by systematically extracting information.
  9. 9.
    Evasion of Content Filters: If LLMs are used in content moderation, attackers could craft inputs that evade detection by understanding the model's blind spots.

What is Prompt Engineering?

Prompt engineering refers to the art and science of crafting input prompts to effectively guide a machine learning model, especially a Large Language Model, towards producing a desired output. The term often emerges in the context of few-shot or zero-shot learning scenarios where fine-tuning on task-specific data is either unavailable or not desired.
Prompt engineering can involve:
  1. 1.
    Rephrasing Questions: Sometimes, rewording a question can lead to clearer, more accurate answers from the model. For instance, instead of asking, "Tell me about X," asking, "What is the definition of X?" might yield a more concise and direct response.
  2. 2.
    Providing Context: Providing additional context or elaborating on the specific aspect of a query can help guide the model to generate more relevant answers.
  3. 3.
    Explicit Instructions: Giving the model clear instructions on the format or kind of answer expected can be beneficial. For example, ask "List five examples of X" instead of just "Examples of X."
  4. 4.
    Use of Examples: In few-shot learning, providing one or more examples can help specify the task. For instance, if you're looking to translate English to French, providing an example like "Translate the following English sentences to French: ..." can guide the model.
  5. 5.
    Iterative Querying: If the first response from the model isn't satisfactory, refining the prompt or asking follow-up questions based on the model's initial response can be effective.
  6. 6.
    Temperature and Max Tokens: Beyond just the text prompt, parameters like "temperature" and "max tokens" can be adjusted to influence the randomness and length of the model's outputs, respectively.
Prompt engineering is essential because Large Language Models do not always understand context in the same way humans do. The right prompt can bridge the gap between the raw capability of the model and the specific needs of the user. As LLMs become more prevalent, developing expertise in prompt engineering is crucial for extracting maximum utility from these models.