Are Vision Transformers Robust to Patch Perturbations?

Jindong Gu, Volker Tresp, Yao Qin ;


"Recent advances in Vision Transformer (ViT) have demonstrated its impressive performance in image classification, which makes it a promising alternative to Convolutional Neural Network (CNN). Unlike CNNs, ViT represents an input image as a sequence of image patches. The patch-based input image representation makes the following question interesting: How does ViT perform when individual input image patches are perturbed with natural corruptions or adversarial perturbations, compared to CNNs? In this work, we study the robustness of ViT to patch-wise perturbations. Surprisingly, we {find} that ViTs are more robust to naturally corrupted patches than CNNs, whereas they are more vulnerable to adversarial patches. Furthermore, we discover that the attention mechanism greatly affects the robustness of vision transformers. Specifically, the attention module can help improve the robustness of ViT by effectively ignoring natural corrupted patches. However, when ViTs are attacked by an adversary, the attention mechanism can be easily fooled to focus more on the adversarially perturbed patches and cause a mistake. Based on our analysis, we propose a simple temperature-scaling based method to {improve} the robustness of ViT against adversarial patches. Extensive qualitative and quantitative experiments are performed to support our findings, understanding, and improvement of ViT robustness to patch-wise perturbations across a set of transformer-based architectures."

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