Configure the Admin Workstation Post-Install

Auto-connect to the Authenticated Tor Hidden Services

The SecureDrop installation process adds multiple layers of authentication to protect access to the most sensitive assets in the SecureDrop system:

  1. The Journalist Interface, because it provides access to submissions (although they are encrypted to an offline key), and some metadata about sources and submissions.
  2. SSH on the Application Server
  3. SSH on the Monitor Server

The installation process blocks direct access to each of these assets, and sets up Authenticated Tor Hidden Services (ATHS) to provide authenticated access instead. Authenticated Tor Hidden Services share the benefits of Tor Hidden Services, but are only accessible to users who possess a shared secret (auth-cookie in the Tor documentation) that is generated during the hidden service setup process.

In order to access an ATHS, you need to add one or more “auth-cookie” values to your Tor configuration file (torrc) and restart Tor. Doing this manually is annoying and error-prone, so SecureDrop includes a set of scripts in ./tails_files that can set up a Tails instance to automatically configure Tor to access a set of ATHS. In order to persist these changes across reboots, the Tails instance must have persistence enabled (specifically, the “dotfiles persistence”).


Starting in version 0.3.7, SecureDrop requires Tails 2.x or greater.

To install the auto-connect configuration, start by navigating to the directory with these scripts, and run the install script:

./securedrop-admin tailsconfig

Type the Administration Password that you selected when starting Tails and hit Enter. This script installs a persistent script that runs every time you connect to a network in Tails, and automatically configures access to the Journalist Interface and to the servers via SSH. The HidServAuth info is collected from files in ~/Persistent/securedrop/install_files/ansible-base and stored in ~/Persistent/.securedrop/torrc_additions thereafter.


Copy the files app-journalist-aths and app-source-ths to the Transfer Device in preparation for setting up the Journalist Workstation. Then you can use the securedrop-admin tool to configure access for Journalists as well.

In addition, the script creates desktop and menu shortcuts for the Source and Journalist Interfaces, directs Tails to install Ansible at the beginning of every session, and sets up SSH host aliases for the servers.

The only thing you need to remember to do is enable persistence when you boot the Admin Workstation. If you are using the Admin Workstation and are unable to connect to any of the authenticated hidden services, restart Tails and make sure to enable persistence.

Set up two-factor authentication for the Admin

The SecureDrop servers should always be accessed over SSH from the Admin Workstation. In the event of a connectivity problem, Admins can log in directly to the servers by attaching a keyboard and a display. In order to do so, you will need to configure 2FA TOTP access.