Set up the Data Transfer Device

Journalists copy submissions from their Journalist Workstation to the Secure Viewing Station using the Data Transfer Device which can be a DVD or a USB drive.

Using DVDs as the Data Transfer Device provides some protection against certain kinds of esoteric USB-based attacks on the Secure Viewing Station, but requires that you keep blank DVDs on hand, have a dedicated DVD drive for the Secure Viewing Station, DVD drives for use with Journalist Workstations, and a shredder capable of destroying DVDs. Unless you are certain that you need to use DVDs as the Data Transfer Device, you should use USB drives instead. If you have chosen to use DVDs instead, there is nothing to set up now — just make sure that you have all the hardware on hand.

The easiest and recommended option for a Data Transfer Device is a USB drive. If you have a large team of journalists you may want to create several of these. Here we’ll just walk through making one Data Transfer Device. Note: this process will destroy all data currently on the drive. You should probably use a new USB drive.

First, label your USB drive “SecureDrop Data Transfer Device”. Open the Applications menu in the top left corner and select Accessories icon Accessories then Disk Utility icon Disk Utility.

screenshot of the Applications menu in Tails, highlighting Disk Utility

Connect your Data Transfer Device then pick your device in the menu on the left. Since we’re going to destroy all the data on this drive, it’s important that you pick the right drive. It should be named something that sounds similar to the manufacturer’s label on the ouside of the drive, and it will only appear after you plug it in. Double check that you have clicked on the correct drive.

screenshot of Disk Utility application

Once you’re sure you have the right drive, click Format Drive. The default Scheme of Master Boot Record is fine. Click Format, then confirm by clicking Format again. Under the Volumes heading towards the bottom of the right pane of Disk Utility click the large grey bar that represents your newly-formatted drive and then click Create Partition below.

screenshot of the menu to create a new partition in the Disk Utility application

Give the new partition on your Data Transfer Device a descriptive name like “Transfer Device” and check the Encrypt underlying device box, then click Create to continue. You will now be prompted to create a passphrase.

screenshot of passphrase selection promprt in the Disk Utility application

You won’t need to memorize this passphrase or type it more than a few times, so feel free to make a good long one. Pick the Remember forever option — this will save the passphrase securely on Secure Viewing Station‘s persistent volume. Click Create to continue. After a few seconds, you new Data Transfer Device should be ready for use.

If you haven’t already, make sure to label it.


Since a Data Transfer Device is used to move files from a Journalist Workstation to the Secure Viewing Station, you’ll also need to enter the passphrase on each Journalist Workstation you use this Data Transfer Device with. When you connect the Data Transfer Device to a new Journalist Workstation for the first time, you’ll be prompted to enter the passphrase to unlock the encrypted disk.

image of the disk unlock prompt on Tails

Make sure to select the Remember forever option before entering your passphrase. As in the Disk Utility application this will securely save the passphrase on the persistent volume of that Journalist Workstation, ensuring that you only ever have to type in the passphrase once on any particular machine.