Simon Willison’s Weblog


The Instruction Hierarchy: Training LLMs to Prioritize Privileged Instructions (via) By far the most detailed paper on prompt injection I’ve seen yet from OpenAI, published a few days ago and with six credited authors: Eric Wallace, Kai Xiao, Reimar Leike, Lilian Weng, Johannes Heidecke and Alex Beutel.

The paper notes that prompt injection mitigations which completely refuse any form of instruction in an untrusted prompt may not actually be ideal: some forms of instruction are harmless, and refusing them may provide a worse experience.

Instead, it proposes a hierarchy—where models are trained to consider if instructions from different levels conflict with or support the goals of the higher-level instructions—if they are aligned or misaligned with them.

The authors tested this idea by fine-tuning a model on top of GPT 3.5, and claim that it shows greatly improved performance against numerous prompt injection benchmarks.

As always with prompt injection, my key concern is that I don’t think “improved” is good enough here. If you are facing an adversarial attacker reducing the chance that they might find an exploit just means they’ll try harder until they find an attack that works.

The paper concludes with this note: “Finally, our current models are likely still vulnerable to powerful adversarial attacks. In the future, we will conduct more explicit adversarial training, and study more generally whether LLMs can be made sufficiently robust to enable high-stakes agentic applications.”