LLM Data Security Best Practices

Codecademy Team
An exploration of Large Language Model (LLM) data security best practices

A Large Language Model (LLM) is an artificial intelligence model designed to comprehend and generate human-like language. LLMs, such as GPT-3 (Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3), are notable examples of this technology. These models can understand and generate coherent and contextually relevant text, making them versatile tools for various applications across natural language processing and understanding tasks. Their ability to produce human-like text outputs has many benefits and has led to their utilization in content creation, customer service, education, and numerous other fields.

We will explore the critical connection between data security when you’re using LLMs like GPT-3.5 and GPT-4. Imagine these LLMs as magical wordsmiths, capable of creating all sorts of text wonders, from poems to advice. However, every great technological advancement comes with its challenges, and for LLMs, it’s ensuring the security of the data they learn and use.

Why Data Security?

LLMs are built on deep learning architectures and are trained on massive amounts of text data from diverse sources such as books, articles, websites, and more. The training process enables LLMs to learn the patterns, grammar, rules, and context of language. It allows them to perform tasks like text generation, translation, summarization, question-answering, and even conversation through user-crafted prompts and queries.

When you interact with an LLM, you’re giving it access to your thoughts, ideas, and even personal information. It would be quite problematic if that information fell into the wrong hands. A solid data security policy is a preventative solution to that problem.

Safeguarding Data: Best Practices with LLMs

Let’s discuss how you can keep data safe while harnessing the power of LLMs. The following list of data security practices is mentioned in brief. To learn more about these topics, visit Codecademy’s library of articles and lessons. We’ve linked a few for you here:

  1. Data Minimization: Like packing for a trip, only take what you need. Collect minimal user data to reduce the risk of exposing sensitive information. As an end-user providing data to an AI-powered application, limit the data you provide in a prompt to the minimal possible unit of data.

  2. Encryption: Just as you lock valuable items in a safe, encrypt data to keep it safe during storage and transmission. Data does not necessarily need to be encrypted when typed in a plaintext prompt since the majority of encryption is handled by the application and transmission protocols.

  3. Access Control: Set effective access controls that grant access only to authorized users, keeping your LLM interactions exclusive. This is important from the AI application development perspective, and that of the end-user. Consider the passwords and methods of accessing the applications you use that store your personal/sensitive data.

  4. Auditing: Similar to reviewing your bank statements, monitor LLM activity logs to spot unusual patterns that may indicate security breaches.

  5. API Security: When LLMs communicate with other systems, ensure secure communication channels to prevent unauthorized access.

  6. Secure Training Data: When building and training an AI application, filter out sensitive information and biased content from the data used to train your LLMs, ensuring the model doesn’t learn from the wrong sources. This is especially important when exposing AI to the open internet.

  7. Regular Updates: As a developer of an AI application, maintain your application by keeping your LLM and related software up-to-date to address any known vulnerabilities. This practice also applies to the end-user if their AI tools release software updates.

  8. Penetration Testing: A more advanced practice, but effective. A practice specific to the manufacturers of AI software, periodically simulate cyberattacks on your LLM system to identify and address potential weak points.

Putting Theory into Practice with an LLM Example

Imagine you’re crafting a smart fitness app using an LLM, and you’re committed to ensuring the security of user data.

Scenario: Your fitness-focused AI application is designed to assist users in achieving their health and wellness goals by generating personalized meal plans and workout routines. To deliver optimal recommendations, the AI requires users to input personal data such as age, weight, height, dietary preferences, and fitness levels, as well as health information that may be relevant to the tailored program. This type of data may be considered personal information and may even be protected by regulations/laws such as HIPAA (in the United States).

Hypothetical Session: A user logs into the fitness application through a web browser using a simple username and password1, and begins their initial session. The application prompts the user with a message “Welcome! Tell me a little about yourself and your fitness goals. Start with providing basic information such as current weight, height, age, and gender.” The requested information is provided: “Hi! My name is Scott. I am a 27-year-old male weighing 230 lbs. and have a height of 5 feet 10 inches.”

  1. Access Controls: Implement user authentication, ensuring only registered users can access user profiles, stored and recovered personal data, etc. If the option isn’t mandatory but made available to users, include multi-factors when authenticating such as out-of-band codes sent via text or email.

  2. Data Minimization: Collect or provide only relevant user data to avoid unnecessary intrusions. In the example, the application only asked for height, weight, age, and gender. The user’s name was not needed since that data is stored separately from the LLM leveraged data to create an identity separation between LLM stored data and profile information.

Hypothetical Backend Process: As soon as the user presses the Send button in the prompt text space, the height/weight/age information is transmitted to the application server using the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). Once processed by the application server, the data is then sent to the LLM database systems where it is encrypted and stored.

  1. API Security: Use secure communication protocols to transmit user data, much like sending a sealed letter. Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS), for example, should be the minimum standard.

  2. Encryption: Protect user data before storing it with encryption, ensuring that even if it’s accessed, it remains unreadable.

The few best practices exemplified in this scenario demonstrate how they are applied in securing data when using LLM AI applications. Users trust that their data will be securely processed and used solely for the intended purpose. However, the AI tool lacks adequate data security measures. Developers are not just crafting a functional app; they’re creating an environment of trust and responsibility. As you journey forward in the world of LLMs, remember that data security is a vital ingredient in the practice of responsible and ethical technology use. Ethical AI practices, coupled with robust data security measures, are essential to safeguard users’ data and maintain their trust in AI-powered applications.

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