Admin Guide


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You (the admin) should have your own username and passphrase, plus two-factor authentication through either the FreeOTP app on your smartphone or a YubiKey.


The SecureDrop architecture contains multiple hardened servers, and while we have automated many of the installation and maintenance tasks, a skilled Linux admin and some manual intervention 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.

Keep your SecureDrop Server Updated

You should maintain awareness of 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 the Ansible playbooks. 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.

Keep your Network Firewall Updated

Given all traffic first hits the network firewall as it faces the non-Tor public network, you will want to ensure that critical security patches are applied.

Be informed of potential updates to your network firewall. If you’re using the suggested network firewall 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.

Keep your SecureDrop Workstations Updated

You should keep your SecureDrop workstations updated with:

  • Tails updates: for each Admin Workstation, Journalist Workstation, and Secure Viewing Station
  • 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.


Note that you will need to have a Tails Administrator password configured to complete the update. If you forget to add the Tails Administrator password, you will need to reboot to enable it.

Monitor OSSEC alerts for Unusual Activity

You should decrypt and read your OSSEC alerts. Report any suspicious events to FPF through the SecureDrop Support Portal. See the OSSEC Guide for more information on common OSSEC alerts.


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:

Test Alert

Adding Users

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:

SecureDrop main page

In the top right corner click the “Admin” link, which should bring you to this page:

SecureDrop admin home

Once there, click ‘Add User’ button, which will take you to this page:

Add a new user

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:

Enable FreeOTP

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.

Enable YubiKey

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.

Verify YubiKey

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

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 session. 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 to use tmux.

Both Servers


If you want a refresher of the Linux command line, we recommend this resource to cover the fundamentals.

Shutdown the Servers

sudo shutdown now -h

Rebooting the Servers

sudo reboot

Investigating Logs

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

Application Server

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 ./ in /var/www/securedrop/ 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

Monitor Server

Restart OSSEC

If you make changes to your OSSEC monitoring configuration, you will want to restart OSSEC via OSSEC’s control script, ossec-control:

sudo /var/ossec/bin/ossec-control 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:

System Config Page

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:

Logo Update

Updating system configuration

If you want to update the system configuration, you should use the securedrop-admin tool on the Admin Workstation. From ~/Persistent/securedrop, run:

./securedrop-admin sdconfig

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 ~/Persistent/securedrop:

./securedrop-admin install


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 ~/Persistent/securedrop/install_files/ansible-base/group_vars/all/site-specific.

Managing 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 all site-specific files.

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.