Safety Alignment Should Be Made More Than Just a Few Tokens Deep

1Princeton University, 2Google DeepMind


The safety alignment of current Large Language Models (LLMs) is vulnerable. Relatively simple attacks, or even benign fine-tuning, can jailbreak aligned models. We argue that many of these vulnerabilities are related to a shared underlying issue: safety alignment can take shortcuts, wherein the alignment adapts a model's generative distribution primarily over only its very first few output tokens. We refer to this issue as shallow safety alignment. In this paper, we present case studies to explain why shallow safety alignment can exist and provide evidence that current aligned LLMs are subject to this issue. We also show how these findings help explain multiple recently discovered vulnerabilities in LLMs, including the susceptibility to adversarial suffix attacks, prefilling attacks, decoding parameter attacks, and fine-tuning attacks. Importantly, we discuss how this consolidated notion of shallow safety alignment sheds light on promising research directions for mitigating these vulnerabilities. For instance, we show that deepening the safety alignment beyond just the first few tokens can often meaningfully improve robustness against some common exploits. We also design a regularized fine-tuning objective that makes the safety alignment more persistent against fine-tuning attacks by constraining updates on initial tokens. Overall, we advocate that future safety alignment should be made more than just a few tokens deep.