Onboard Additional Admins

If you are the only admin for your SecureDrop, you can skip this chapter. It instructs you how to create additional Admin Workstation USB drives. Each Admin Workstation will have its own SSH keypair.

This chapter assumes that you have one working Admin Workstation. If you’ve not completed that part of the setup yet, see Set Up the Admin Workstation. If your Admin Workstation is corrupted or lost, and you don’t have a backup, see Rebuilding an Admin Workstation USB.


If you make configuration changes on your servers using one Admin Workstation, they may be overwritten by another Admin Workstation if its local copy of the configuration is not identical. When working with multiple admins, it is therefore important to establish protocols for coordinating configuration changes. See Managing Configuration Updates with Multiple Admins.

To onboard an additional administrator, you will need:

  • your existing Admin Workstation USB drive (referred to as AW1 below)

  • an additional empty USB drive (referred to as AW2 below)

To set up AW2, follow these steps:

  1. Boot AW1, unlock its persistent volume, and set an admin password on the welcome screen

  2. Ensure that Tails and the SecureDrop version on AW1 are up-to-date. If not, update now by following the most recent upgrade guide.

  3. Log into the Journalist Interface using your admin credentials, and create a new user account with admin rights. Record its passphrase securely; you will add it to the password manager on AW2.

    (You will need to on-board the new admin’s 2FA device to complete this step. If this is not possible yet, you can defer it until later.)

  4. Insert the empty AW2 USB drive.

  5. Launch the Tails installer (Applications ▸ Tails ▸ Tails Installer) and install Tails on AW2. This will delete all data on the AW2 USB drive.

  6. Shut down AW1.

  7. Boot AW2.

  8. Configure its persistent volume (Applications ▸ Tails ▸ Configure persistent volume). Set a unique passphrase for AW2 and record it securely. Enable all persistence options.

  9. Reboot AW2, unlock its persistent volume, and set an admin password on the welcome screen.

  10. Connect to the Internet.

  11. Open the file manager (Applications ▸ Accessories ▸ Files).

  12. Insert AW1. It should show up in the list of storage devices in the file manager under a label like “7.0 GB Encrypted”. Click the label and enter the drive password when prompted to unlock it.

  13. In a terminal, type the following command:

    rsync -a --info=progress2 /media/amnesia/TailsData/Persistent/securedrop ~/Persistent

    This will copy only the securedrop directory from AW1 to AW2.

  14. Generate a new keypair on AW2 using the following command:

    ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096

    When prompted, store the keypair in the default location.

  15. Run the command ./securedrop-admin tailsconfig in ~/Persistent/securedrop.

    This will set up the SecureDrop Menu and SSH access.

  16. In a terminal, type the following commands to authorize the newly created SSH keypair on your servers:

    • ssh-add

    • ssh-add /media/amnesia/TailsData/openssh-client/id_rsa

    • ssh-copy-id app

    • ssh-copy-id mon

    • ssh-add -D

  17. From the file manager (Applications ▸ Accessories ▸ Files), eject AW1.

  18. Confirm that you are able to access mon and app via SSH. The following commands should produce the following output:

    amnesia@amnesia:~$ ssh app hostname
    amnesia@amnesia:~$ ssh mon hostname
  19. Confirm that you are able to access the Source Interface and the Journalist Interface using the SecureDrop Menu.

  20. Initialize a passphrase database on AW2. Store the admin account details using KeePassXC, and other account information this admin will need in the course of administering this system.

  21. Shut down AW2.

  22. Back up AW2.

You can now provide AW2 to the new administrator. Ensure that they store the disk encryption passphrase in a secure manner: in most configurations, it is the only passphrase that is required to SSH into your servers for anyone who obtains access to the USB drive.

The SSH keypair on AW2 is unique to that workstation. When offboarding the administrator, you can manually remove the SSH public key from your admin user’s ~/.ssh/authorized_keys on app and mon. Alternatively, if only a single Admin Workstation is in active use, you can use the ./securedrop-admin reset_admin_access command in ~/Persistent/securedrop to revoke access to all other SSH keys. See our offboarding guide for more information.