Iron: Private Inference on Transformers

Meng Hao · Hongwei Li · Hanxiao Chen · Pengzhi Xing · Guowen Xu · Tianwei Zhang

Hall J #804

Abstract: We initiate the study of private inference on Transformer-based models in the client-server setting, where clients have private inputs and servers hold proprietary models. Our main contribution is to provide several new secure protocols for matrix multiplication and complex non-linear functions like Softmax, GELU activations, and LayerNorm, which are critical components of Transformers. Specifically, we first propose a customized homomorphic encryption-based protocol for matrix multiplication that crucially relies on a novel compact packing technique. This design achieves $\sqrt{m} \times$ less communication ($m$ is the number of rows of the output matrix) over the most efficient work. Second, we design efficient protocols for three non-linear functions via integrating advanced underlying protocols and specialized optimizations. Compared to the state-of-the-art protocols, our recipes reduce about half of the communication and computation overhead. Furthermore, all protocols are numerically precise, which preserve the model accuracy of plaintext. These techniques together allow us to implement \Name, an efficient Transformer-based private inference framework. Experiments conducted on several real-world datasets and models demonstrate that \Name achieves $3 \sim 14\times$ less communication and $3 \sim 11\times$ less runtime compared to the prior art.

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