Source Guide

Note

This guide provides an introduction to using SecureDrop as a source. It is not exhaustive, it does not address ethical or legal dimensions of whistleblowing, and it does not speak to other methods for confidentially communicating with journalists. Please proceed at your own risk. For additional background, also see the Freedom of the Press Foundation guide, How to Share Sensitive Leaks With the Press.

Choosing the Right Location

When national security is involved, we suggest you buy a new computer and a USB flash drive, using cash. In any case you must then find a busy coworking place or cyber cafe you don’t regularly go to and sit at a place with your back to a wall to avoid cameras capturing information on your screen or keystrokes.

Get the Tor Browser

Each SecureDrop instance has a publicly available Source Interface: a website where sources can create anonymous accounts, submit files and messages, and check back for replies.

Each Source Interface is only available as an onion service, which is a special type of website with an address ending in “.onion” that is only accessible through Tor. Tor is an anonymizing network that makes it difficult for anybody observing the network to associate a user’s identity (e.g., their computer’s IP address) with their activity (e.g., uploading information to SecureDrop).

The easiest and most secure way to use Tor is to download the Tor Browser from the Tor Project website. The Tor Browser is a modified version of the Firefox web browser. It was designed to protect your security and anonymity while using Tor. If there is a chance that downloading the Tor Browser raises suspicion, you have a few alternatives, for example:

  • If your mail provider is less likely to be monitored, you can send a mail to gettor@torproject.org with the text “linux”, “windows” or “osx” in the body (for your preferred operating system) and a bot will answer with instructions.
  • You can download a copy of the Tor Browser for your operating system from the GitLab mirror. maintained by the Tor team.

While using the Tor Browser on your personal computer helps hide your activity on the network, it leaves traces of its own installation on your local machine. Your operating system may keep additional logs, for example, of the last time you used Tor Browser.

In general, when you are trying to stay anonymous, many time-saving features of your computer or phone turn into threats: bookmarks, recommendations, synchronization features, shortcuts to frequently opened files, and so on. It is very easy to make small mistakes that can endanger your anonymity, especially if you use the same device for any other purpose.

For greater deniability and security, we recommend booting into the Tails operating system (typically from a USB stick). Tails is specifically designed to run on your computer without leaving traces of your activity or saving logs. It automatically routes all of your Internet browsing through Tor so you can easily access SecureDrop safely.

Even if you are using a dedicated computer for your SecureDrop activity that you have never used and will never use for anything else, we recommend also using Tails to avoid leaving traces of your activity on the computer’s hard disk, in your ISP’s logs, or on cloud services.

Important

Tor protects your anonymity, but third parties who can monitor your network traffic can detect that you are using Tor. They may even be able to do so long after your browser session, using network activity logs. This is why we recommend using Tor Browser from a cybercafe or coworking space you do not visit regularly.

Choose Who to Submit To

We recommend conducting all research related to your submission in Tor Browser. If you are unsure whether you are using Tor, you can visit the address https://check.torproject.org.

All organizations operating SecureDrop have a Landing Page that provides their own organization-specific recommendations for using SecureDrop. We encourage you to consider an organization’s Landing Page before submitting to them.

Note

Each SecureDrop instance is operated and administered independently by the organization you are submitting to. Only the journalists associated with that organization can see your submissions.

Most organizations make their Landing Page prominently accessible from their main website’s homepage (for news organizations, typically under sections called “Tips” or “Contact us”). You can also find an incomplete list of organizations accepting submissions through SecureDrop in the SecureDrop Directory maintained by Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Using the Tor Browser, find the “.onion” address for the Source Interface of the organization that you wish to submit to.

Tip

If the organization does have an entry in the SecureDrop Directory, we recommend comparing the address of the entry with the one on the organization’s own Landing Page.

If the two addresses don’t match, please do not submit to this organization yet. Instead, please contact us through the SecureDrop Website, using the Tor Browser. For additional security, you can use our .onion service address in Tor:

secrdrop5wyphb5x.onion/report-an-error

We will update the directory entry if the information in it is incorrect.

Once you have located the “.onion” address, copy it into the address bar in Tor Browser to visit the organization’s Source Interface.

Making Your First Submission

Open the Tor Browser and navigate to the .onion address for the SecureDrop Source Interface you wish to make a submission to. The page should look similar to the screenshot below, although it will probably have a logo specific to the organization you are submitting to:

Source Interface with Javascript Disabled

If this is the first time you’re using the Tor Browser, it’s likely that you have JavaScript enabled and that the Tor Browser’s security setting is set to “Low”. In this case, there will be a purple warning banner at the top of the page that encourages you to disable JavaScript and change the security setting to “Safest”:

Source Interface Security Slider Warning

Click the Security Setting link in the warning banner, and a message bubble will pop up explaining how to adjust this setting:

Fix Javascript warning

Follow the instructions, and the security setting in Tor Browser should look similar to this screenshot:

Security Slider

Note

The “Safest” setting disables the use of JavaScript on every page you visit using Tor Browser, even after a browser restart. This may cause other websites you visit using Tor Browser to no longer work correctly, until you adjust the Security Setting again. We recommend keeping the setting at “Safest” during the entirety of the session in which you access an organization’s SecureDrop instance.

The SecureDrop Source Interface should now refresh automatically and look similar to the screenshot below. If this is the first time you are using SecureDrop, click the Get Started button.

Source Interface with Javascript Disabled

You should now see a screen that shows the unique codename that SecureDrop has generated for you. Note that your codename will not be the same as the codename shown in the image below. It is extremely important that you both remember this code and keep it secret. After submitting documents, you will need to provide this code to log back in and check for responses.

The best way to protect your codename is to memorize it. If you cannot memorize it right away, we recommend writing it down and keeping it in a safe place at first, and gradually working to memorize it over time. Once you have memorized it, you should destroy the written copy.

Tip

For detailed recommendations on best practices for managing your passphrase, check out Passphrase Best Practices.

Once you have generated a codename and put it somewhere safe, click Submit Documents.

Memorizing your codename

You will next be brought to the submission interface, where you may upload a document, enter a message to send to journalists, or both. You can only submit one document at a time, so you may want to combine several files into a ZIP archive if necessary. The maximum submission size is currently 500MB. If the files you wish to upload are over that limit, we recommend that you send a message to the journalist explaining this, so that they can set up another method for transferring the documents.

When your submission is ready, click Submit.

Submit a document

After clicking Submit, a confirmation page should appear, showing that your message and/or documents have been sent successfully. On this page you can make another submission or view responses to your previous messages.

Confirmation page

Once you are finished submitting documents, be certain you have saved your secret codename and then click the Log out button:

Logout

The final step to clearing your session is to restart Tor Browser for optimal security. You can either close the browser entirely or follow the notification: click on the Tor onion in the toolbar, click New Identity and then click Yes in the dialog box that appears to confirm you’d like to restart Tor Browser:

Restart TBB

Continuing the Conversation

If you have already submitted a document and would like to check for responses, click the Log in button on the media organization’s Source Interface.

Source Interface with Javascript Disabled

The next page will ask for your secret codename. Enter it and click Continue.

Check for response

If a journalist has responded, their message will appear on the next page. This page also allows you to upload another document or send another message to the journalist. Before leaving the page, you should delete any replies. In the unlikely event that someone learns your codename, this will ensure that they will not be able to see the previous correspondences you had with journalists.

Check for a reply

After you delete the message from the journalist, make sure you see the below message.

Delete received messages

If the server is experiencing a surge in traffic, you may see the message below:

Check for an initial response

This will only happen once for a given codename. It means that the journalist wants to reply to your submission, but for security reasons, they cannot do so until you’ve seen this message. Log in again at a later time to see if the journalist has responded.

Repeat these steps to continue communicating with the journalist.