The SecureDrop architecture contains multiple machines and hardened servers. While we have automated many of the installation and maintenance tasks, a skilled Linux admin is required to responsibly run the system.
This section outlines the tasks the admin is responsible for in order to ensure that the SecureDrop server continues to be a safe place for sources to talk to journalists.
The admin should have her own username, passphrase, and two-factor authentication method (via smartphone app or YubiKey). Admins are also responsible for managing user credentials and encouraging best practices. (See Passphrases and Passphrase Best Practices.)
Updating the SecureDrop Servers¶
The admin should be aware of all SecureDrop updates and take any required manual action if requested in the SecureDrop Release Blog. We recommend subscribing to the SecureDrop RSS Feed to stay apprised of new updates.
Most often, the SecureDrop server will automatically update via apt. However,
occasionally you will need to run
securedrop-admin install. We will inform you in
the release blog when this is the case. If you are onboarded to our SecureDrop
Support Portal, we will let you know in advance of major releases if manual
intervention will be required.
Updating the Network Firewall¶
Given all traffic first hits the network firewall as it faces the non-Tor public network, the admin should ensure that critical security patches are applied to the firewall.
Be informed of potential updates to your network firewall. If you’re using the network firewall suggested by FPF, you can subscribe to the Netgate RSS Feed to be alerted when releases occur. If critical security updates need to be applied, you can do so through the firewall’s pfSense WebGUI. Refer to our Keeping pfSense up to Date documentation or the official pfSense Upgrade Docs for further details on how to update the suggested firewall.
Updating the SecureDrop Workstations¶
The admin should keep all SecureDrop workstations updated with
- Tails updates for each Admin Workstation, Journalist Workstation, and Secure Viewing Station; and
- SecureDrop workstation updates for each Admin Workstation and Journalist Workstation.
You should apply Tails updates to your Tails drives as they are released, as they often contain critical security fixes. Subscribe to the Tails RSS Feed to be alerted of new releases. The online Tails drives, once booted and connected to Tor, will alert you if upgrades are available. Follow the Tails Upgrade Documentation on how to upgrade the drives.
For SecureDrop workstation updates, beginning with SecureDrop 0.7, your workstation will automatically check for updates on boot. An update window will pop up when updates are needed, and you should simply follow the prompts in the updater to perform the update.
Monitoring OSSEC Alerts for Unusual Activity¶
Do not post logs or alerts to public forums without first carefully examining and redacting any sensitive information.
You can send a test OSSEC alert to verify OSSEC and your email configuration is working properly through the Admin Interface by clicking Send Test OSSEC Alert:
Now you can add new logins for the journalists at your news organization who will be checking the system for submissions. Make sure the journalist is physically in the same room as you when you do this, as they will have to scan a barcode for their two-factor authentication. Since you’re logged in, this is the screen you should see now:
In the top right corner click the “Admin” link, which should bring you to this page:
Once there, click ‘Add User’ button, which will take you to this page:
Here, you will hand the keyboard over to the journalist so they can create their own username. Once they’re done entering a username for themselves, have them write down their pre-generated diceware passphrase. Then, you will select whether you would like them to also be an admin (this allows them to add or delete other journalist accounts), and whether they will be using FreeOTP or a YubiKey for two-factor authentication.
If they are using FreeOTP for their two-factor, they can just proceed to the next page:
At this point, the journalist should make sure they have downloaded the FreeOTP app to their smartphone. It can be installed from the Apple Store for an iPhone or from the Google Play store for an Android phone. Once you download it and open it, the app does not require setup. It should prompt you to scan a barcode. The journalist should use their phone’s camera to scan the barcode on the screen.
If they have difficulty scanning the barcode, they can tap on the icon
at the top that shows a plus and the symbol of a key and use their
phone’s keyboard to input the random characters that are highlighted
in yellow, in the
Secret input field, without white space.
Inside the FreeOTP app, a new entry for this account will appear on the main screen, with a six digit number that recycles to a new number every thirty seconds. Enter the six digit number under “Verification code” at the bottom of the screen, and hit enter.
If FreeOTP was set up correctly, you will be redirected back to the Admin Interface and will see a confirmation that the two-factor token was verified.
We recommend using FreeOTP to generate two-factor authentication tokens because it is Free Software. However, if it does not work for you for any reason, alternatives exist:
If the journalist wishes to use a YubiKey for two-factor authentication, check the box next to “I’m using a YubiKey”. You will then need to enter the OATH-HOTP Secret Key that your YubiKey is configured with. For more information, read the YubiKey Setup Guide.
Once you’ve configured your YubiKey and entered the Secret Key, click Add user. On the next page, enter a code from your YubiKey by inserting it into the workstation and pressing the button.
If everything was set up correctly, you will be redirected back to the Admin Interface, where you should see a flashed message that says “Two factor token successfully verified for user new username!”.
Congratulations! You have successfully set up a journalist on SecureDrop. Make sure the journalist remembers their username and passphrase and always has their 2 factor authentication device in their possession when they attempt to log in to SecureDrop.
Server Command Line Use¶
Generally, you should avoid directly SSHing into the servers in favor of using
the Admin Interface or
securedrop-admin CLI tool. However, in some cases,
you may need to SSH in order to troubleshoot and fix a problem that cannot be
resolved via these tools.
In this section we cover basic commands you may find useful when you SSH into the Application Server and Monitor Server.
When you SSH into either SecureDrop server, you will be dropped into a
tmux is a screen multiplexer - it allows you to tile
panes, preserve sessions to keep your session alive if the network
connection fails, and more. Check out this tmux tutorial to learn how
If you want a refresher of the Linux command line, we recommend this resource to cover the fundamentals.
Shutting Down the Servers¶
sudo shutdown now -h
Rebooting the Servers¶
Refer to the Useful Logs documentation to see the locations of files that contain relevant information while debugging issues on your SecureDrop servers.
You can also use the
securedrop-admin tool to extract logs to
send to Freedom of the Press Foundation for analysis:
cd ~/Persistent/securedrop ./securedrop-admin logs
This command will produce encrypted tarballs containing logs from each server.
Immediately Apply a SecureDrop Update¶
SecureDrop will update and reboot once per day. However, if after a SecureDrop update is announced you wish to fetch the update immediately, you can SSH into each server and run:
sudo cron-apt -i -s
Adding Users (CLI)¶
After the provisioning of the first admin account, we recommend using the Admin Interface web application for adding additional journalists and admins.
However, you can also add users via
as described during first install. You can use
this command line method if the web application is unavailable.
Restart the Web Server¶
If you make changes to your Apache configuration, you may want to restart the web server to apply the changes:
sudo service apache2 restart
Updating the Servers¶
Sometimes you will want to update the system configuration on the SecureDrop servers. For example, to customize the logo on the source interface, or change the PGP key that OSSEC alerts are encrypted to. You can do this from your Admin Workstation by following the procedure described in this section.
Updating Logo Image¶
You can update the system logo shown on the web interfaces of your SecureDrop
instance via the Admin Interface. We recommend a size of
500px x 450px.
Simply click the Update Instance Config button:
And on the instance configuration page, select and upload the PNG image you prefer. You should see a message appear indicating the change was a success:
Updating System Configuration¶
If you want to update the system configuration, you should use the
securedrop-admin tool on the Admin Workstation. From
This will give you the opportunity to edit any variable. Answer the prompts with values
that match your environment. An example of one such prompt would be to set the
daily reboot time.
To minimize the presence/duration of plaintext in memory, the servers are rebooted every 24 hours
to periodically wipe the memory. As an admin, you can configure this automatic reboot time.
By default, it is set at 4:00 a.m. and you can change it to suit your timing. Next, you will need to
apply the changes to the servers. Again from
If you see an error running
./securedrop-admin install, and
believe it may be an intermittent issue (for example, due to losing
network connectivity to the servers), it is safe to run the
./securedrop-admin install command again. If you see the same
issue consistently, then you will need to troubleshoot it.
Once the install command has successfully completed, the changes are applied. Read the next section if you have multiple admins.
Server configuration is stored on the Admin Workstation in
site-specific Updates On Teams With Multiple Admins¶
Organizations with multiple admins should establish a protocol to communicate
any changes one admin makes to the
site-specific configuration file on the server.
Currently, when one admin pushes changes in
site-specific to the server, the
changes will not sync to the local
site-specific file on the remaining admin workstations.
Without being aware of changes made to
site-specific, admins run the risk of pushing old
information to the servers. This can affect the receipt of OSSEC alerts, viability of the
Submission Key, among other critical components of the SecureDrop environment.
There are multiple ways to avoid pushing out-of-date information to the servers.
We recommend admins establish a secure communication pipeline to alert fellow admins
of any changes made to
site-specific on the server. That clues every admin in on
changes in real time, providing all team members with a reminder to manually update
In addition to secure group communications, admins can learn of updates to the server by monitoring OSSEC alerts. (Please note that while an OSSEC alert can notify you of the occurrence of an update to the server, it may not reveal the content of the change.) Another management option would be SSHing into the server and manually inspecting the configuration to identify any discrepancies.
Frequently Asked Questions¶
Some initial troubleshooting steps for common scenarios follow. If you continue to have trouble after following these steps, you can contact the SecureDrop team for further assistance.
Generic Troubleshooting Tips¶
When troubleshooting, ensure you are on the latest version of SecureDrop in your Admin Workstation. After upgrading to SecureDrop 0.7.x, this is done by simply accepting the update when prompted at boot in the GUI that appears.
I can’t SSH into my servers over Tor from my Admin Workstation. What do I do?¶
At any point after the successful installation of SecureDrop, if you cannot SSH into your Admin Workstation, you should first perform the following troubleshooting steps:
Ensure that you are connected to Tor. You can do this by browsing to any site in Tor Browser in your Admin Workstation.
Ensure your servers are online. Visit the Admin Interface to check your Application Server is online, and you can trigger a test OSSEC alert to verify your Monitor Server is online.
Ensure that SSH aliases and the HidServAuth values are configured: From
./securedrop-admin tailsconfig. This will ensure your local Tails environment is configured properly.
If you get an error during the Tails configuration step, as an Administrator, you should ensure you have four files
~/Persistent/securedrop/install_files/ansible-base/. These are used by the Tails configuration scripts to configure Tor.
Confirm that your SSH key is available: During the install, you configured SSH public key authentication using
ssh-copy-id. Ensure this key is available using
ssh-add -L. If you see the output “This agent has no identities.” then you need to add the key via
ssh-addprior to SSHing into the servers.
I got a unusual error when running
./securedrop-admin install. What do I do?¶
If the error message is not informative, try running it again. The Tor
connection can be flaky and can cause apparent errors, but there is no negative
impact of re-rerunning
./securedrop-admin install more than once. The
command will simply check which tasks have been completed, and pick up where it
left off. However, if the same issue persists, you will need to investigate