How can we design Bloom filters that have a low false positive rate, even against an adversary that is trying to cause lots of false positives?


The Bloom filter---or, more generally, an approximate membership query data structure (AMQ)---maintains a compact, probabilistic representation of a set S of keys from a universe U. An AMQ supports lookups, inserts, and (for some AMQs) deletes. A query for an x in S is guaranteed to return "present." A query for x not in S returns "absent" with probability at least 1-epsilon, where epsilon is a tunable false positive probability. If a query returns "present," but x is not in S, then x is a false positive of the AMQ. Because AMQs have a nonzero probability of false-positives, they require far less space than explicit set representations. AMQs are widely used to speed up dictionaries that are stored remotely (e.g., on disk/across a network). Most AMQs offer weak guarantees on the number of false positives they will return on a sequence of queries. The false-positive probability of epsilon holds only for a single query. It is easy for an adversary to drive an AMQ's false-positive rate towards 1 by simply repeating false positives. This paper shows what it takes to get strong guarantees on the number of false positives. We say that an AMQs is adaptive if it guarantees a false-positive probability of epsilon for every query, regardless of answers to previous queries. First, we prove that it is impossible to build a small adaptive AMQ, even when the AMQ is immediately told whenever it returns a false positive. We then show how to build an adaptive AMQ that partitions its state into a small local component and a larger remote component. In addition to being adaptive, the local component of our AMQ dominates existing AMQs in all regards. It uses optimal space up to lower-order terms and supports queries and updates in worst-case constant time, with high probability. Thus, we show that adaptivity has no cost.


A draft of this paper is available on arXiv.


October, 2018


  • Michael A Bender
  • Martin Farach-Colton
  • Mayank Goswami
  • Rob Johnson
  • Samuel McCauley
  • Shikha Singh

Related projects

Research Areas

  • Bloom filter
  • External-Memory Data Structures