Backup and Restore SecureDrop

There are a number of reasons why you might want to backup and restore your SecureDrop. You may want to move an existing SecureDrop installation to new hardware. Performing such a migration consists of:

  1. Backup the existing installation.
  2. Do a new install of the same version of SecureDrop on the new hardware.
  3. Restore the backup to the new installation.

Maintaining periodic backups are 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 historical submissions from sources.


The backup and restore functionality described in this guide was introduced in SecureDrop 0.3.7. Prior versions of SecureDrop included a less featureful backup process. Make sure you have upgraded to SecureDrop 0.3.7 or greater before continuing.

Minimizing disk space

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 your Journalists to delete submissions from the Journalist Interface regularly.


The throughput of a Tor Hidden Service seems to average around 150 kB/s, or roughly 4 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 by SSHing in and running 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. This is especially true because SecureDrop uses srm to securely erase file submissions, which takes significantly more time than normal file deletion. You can monitor the progress of queued deletion jobs with sudo tail -f /var/log/securedrop_worker/err.log.

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 SecureDrop version 0.3.7 or later checked out (you can run git describe --exact-match to see what Git tag you’ve checked out).


The backups are stored in the Admin Workstation‘s persistent volume. You should 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 you can use 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.

cd install_files/ansible-base
ansible -u <SSH username> -m ping all


If you forgot your SSH username, it is the value of the ssh_users variable in group_vars/all/site-specific.

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 (which ansible should return a path instead of “not found”).
    • Ansible should be automatically installed by the Tails auto-configuration for SecureDrop. If it is not, you probably need to re-run ./securedrop-admin tailsconfig. See Configure the Admin Workstation Post-Install for detailed instructions).
  • The Admin Workstation is connected to the Internet.
  • Tor started successfully.
  • The HidServAuth values from app-ssh-aths and mon-ssh-aths are in Tails’ /etc/tor/torrc.
    • Tor should be automatically configured to connect to the authenticated Tor Hidden Services by the Tails auto-configuration for SecureDrop. If it is not, you probably need to re-run ./securedrop-admin tailsconfig. See Configure the Admin Workstation Post-Install for detailed instructions).

Run the backup Ansible role

Now you can run the production Ansible playbook with special flags tag to perform the backup:

cd install_files/ansible-base
ansible-playbook -u <SSH username> -K -t backup securedrop-prod.yml -e perform_backup=true

The backup role will print out the results of its tasks as it completes them. You can expect the fetch the backup file step to take a long time, especially if you have a lot of saved submissions.

When the backup role is complete, the backup will be stored as a tar archive in ansible-base. The filename will start with sd-backup, have 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 the fetch the backup file task, as the value of the variable "dest" in the results dictionary.


The backup file contains sensitive information! Be careful where you copy it.



The process for restoring a backup is very similar to the process of creating one. As before, to get started, boot the Admin Workstation, cd to the SecureDrop repository, and ensure that you have SecureDrop 0.3.7 or later checked out.

The restore role 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 role. 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.

Run the restore Ansible role

To perform a restore, simply run the same command that you ran to perform a backup:

cd install_files/ansible-base
ansible-playbook -u <SSH username> -K -t backup securedrop-prod.yml -e restore_file="<your backup archive filename>"

This actually performs a backup, followed by a restore. A backup is done before the restore as an emergency precaution, to ensure you can recover the server in case something goes wrong with the restore.

Once the restore is done, the Ansible playbook will fetch the Tor HidServAuth credentials for the various Authenticated Tor Hidden Services (ATHS) back to the Admin Workstation. This synchronizes the state on the Admin Workstation with the state of the restored server. You should re-run the Tails custom configuration script (./securedrop-admin tailsconfig, see Configure the Admin Workstation Post-Install for detailed instructions).