Back Up, Restore, Migrate

There are a number of reasons why you might want to backup and restore a SecureDrop installation. Maintaining periodic backups is generally a good practice to guard against data loss. In the event of hardware failure on the SecureDrop servers, having a recent backup will enable you to redeploy the system without changing Onion URLs, recreating journalist accounts, or losing previous submissions from sources.


Only the Application Server is backed up and restored, including historical submissions and both Source Interface and Journalist Interface URLs. The Monitor Server needs to be configured from scratch in the event of a hardware migration.

Minimizing Disk Use

Since the backup and restore operations both involve transferring all of your SecureDrop’s stored submissions over Tor, the process can take a long time. To save time and improve reliability for the transfers, take a moment to clean up older submissions in the Journalist Interface. As a general practice, you should encourage Journalists to delete regularly unneeded submissions from the Journalist Interface.


Although it varies, the average throughput of an onion service is about 300 kB/s, or roughly 2 hours for 2GB. Plan your backup and restore accordingly.

You can use the following command to determine the volume of submissions currently on the Application Server: log in over SSH and run sudo du -sh /var/lib/securedrop/store.


Submissions are deleted asynchronously and one at a time, so if you delete a lot of submissions through the Journalist Interface, it may take a while for all of the submissions to actually be deleted. SecureDrop uses shred to securely erase files, which takes significantly more time than normal file deletion. You can monitor the progress of queued deletion jobs by logging in to the Application Server over SSH and running:

sudo journalctl -u securedrop_rqworker

If you find you cannot perform a backup or restore due to this constraint, and have already deleted old submissions from the Journalist Interface, contact us through the SecureDrop Support Portal.

Backing Up

Open a Terminal on the Admin Workstation and cd to your clone of the SecureDrop git repository (usually ~/Persistent/securedrop). Ensure you have a tagged SecureDrop release checked out, version 0.4 or later. (You can run git describe --exact-match to verify that you have the right source checked out.)


The backups are stored in the Admin Workstation persistent volume. Verify that you have enough space to store the backups before running the backup command.

You can use the du command described earlier to get the approximate size of the backup file (since the majority of the backup archive is the stored submissions), and Tails’ Disks utility to see how much free space you have on your persistent volume.

Check Connectivity

First, verify that your Admin Workstation is able to run Ansible and connect to the SecureDrop servers.

ssh app uptime

If this command fails (usually with an error like “SSH Error: data could not be sent to the remote host. Make sure this host can be reached over ssh”), you need to debug your connectivity before proceeding further. Make sure:

  • Ansible is installed
  • the Admin Workstation is connected to the Internet
  • Tor starts successfully
  • The appropriate onion service configuration files are present in ~/Persistent/securedrop/install_files/ansible-base and the ./securedrop-admin tailsconfig command completes successfully

If Ansible is not installed, or ./securedrop-admin tailsconfig fails, see Configure the Admin Workstation Post-Install and Create Backups for detailed setup instructions.

Create the Backup

When you are ready to begin the backup, run

./securedrop-admin backup

The backup action will display itemized progress as the backup is created. Run time will vary depending on connectivity and the number of submissions saved on the Application Server.

When the backup action is complete, the backup will be stored as a compressed archive in install_files/ansible-base. The filename will begin sd-backup followed by a timestamp of when the backup was initiated, and end with .tar.gz. You can find the full path to the backup archive in the output of backup action.


The backup file contains sensitive information! It should only be stored on the Admin Workstation, or on a dedicated encrypted backup USB.


When dealing with larger backups, the securedrop-admin backup command may fail with a MemoryError at this stage of the operation: “Fetch the backup tarball back to the Admin Workstation”.

If this happens, a backup was successfully generated, but it is still on the server. Run this command from your ~/Persistent/securedrop directory to copy the backup your Admin Workstation:

rsync -av --progress --partial app:$(ssh app ls -1rt /tmp/sd-backup* | tail -1) install_files/ansible-base/

If the transfer fails or is interrupted, you can simply run this command again to resume it.

Note that this method will only work if you have first run the securedrop-admin backup command, and the backup has successfully progressed at least until the “Fetch the backup tarball” stage.



The process for restoring a backup is very similar to the process of creating one. As before, boot the Admin Workstation and cd to the SecureDrop repository. Ensure that you have SecureDrop 0.4 or later checked out.

The restore command expects to find a .tar.gz backup archive in install_files/ansible-base under the SecureDrop repository root directory. If you are using the same Admin Workstation to do a restore from a previous backup, it should already be there because it was placed there by the backup command. Otherwise, you should copy the backup archive that you wish to restore to install_files/ansible-base.


The backup strategy used for SecureDrop versions prior to 0.3.7 created encrypted archives with the extension .zip.gpg. You can safely remove those files once you’ve created the .tar.gz backup archive described in this guide.

Restoring From a Backup File


This documentation applies to a SecureDrop instance using v2 onion services. If your instance uses v3 onion services, you will need to follow additional steps depending on your specific restore scenario.

To perform a restore, you must already have a backup archive. Provide its filename in the following command:

./securedrop-admin restore sd-backup-2017-07-22--01-06-25.tar.gz

Make sure to replace sd-backup-2017-07-22--01-06-25.tar.gz with the filename for your backup archive. The backup archives are located in install_files/ansible-base.

Once the restore is done, the Application Server will use the original Source Interface and Journalist Interface Onion URLs. You will need to update the corresponding files on the Admin Workstation:

  • app-source-ths
  • app-journalist-aths
  • app-ssh-aths

Once SSH access to the servers has been established (or if using SSH over local network), Onion URLs for the Source Interface and Journalist Interfaces can be fetched using the installer:

./securedrop-admin install

Then rerun ./securedrop-admin tailsconfig to update the Admin Workstation to use the restored Onion URLs again. See Configure the Admin Workstation Post-Install and Create Backups for detailed instructions.


Moving a SecureDrop installation to new hardware consists of

  1. Backing up the existing installation;
  2. Installing the same version of SecureDrop on the new hardware;
  3. Restoring the backup to the new installation.