Onboard Journalists

Congratulations! You’ve successfully installed SecureDrop.

At this point, the only person who has access to the system is the admin. In order to grant access to journalists, you will need to do some additional setup for each individual journalist.

In order to use SecureDrop, each journalist needs two things:

  1. A Journalist Tails USB.

    The Journalist Interface is only accessible as an authenticated onion service. For ease of configuration and security, we require journalists to set up a Tails USB with persistence that they are required to use to access the Journalist Interface.

  2. Access to the Secure Viewing Station.

    The Journalist Interface allows journalists to download submissions from sources, but they are encrypted to the offline private key that is stored on the Secure Viewing Station Tails USB. In order for the journalist to decrypt and view submissions, they need access to a Secure Viewing Station.

Determine Access Protocol for the Secure Viewing Station

Currently, SecureDrop only supports encrypting submissions to a single public/private key pair - the Submission Key. As a result, each journalist needs a way to access the Secure Viewing Station with a Tails USB that includes the Submission Private Key.

The access protocol for the Secure Viewing Station depends on the structure and distribution of your organization. If your organization is centralized and there are only a few journalists with access to SecureDrop, they should be fine with sharing a single Secure Viewing Station. On the other hand, if your organization is distributed, or if you have a lot of journalists who wish to access SecureDrop concurrently, you will need to provision multiple Secure Viewing Stations.

Create a Journalist Tails USB

Each journalist will need a Journalist Tails USB and a Journalist Workstation, which is the computer they use to boot their Tails USB.

To create a Journalist Interface Tails USB, just follow the same procedure you used to create a Tails USB with persistence for the Admin Workstation, as documented in the Tails Setup Guide.


As with your Admin Workstation, you can use a fresh copy of the blank KeePassXC template in the repository to initialize the password database on the Journalist Workstation. You can safely edit this copy to remove sections or fields that are not relevant for the journalist you are onboarding. For example, the admin section of the password database should never be filled in on a Journalist Workstation.

Once you’re done, boot into the new Journalist Tails USB on the Journalist Workstation. Enable persistence and set an admin passphrase before continuing with the next section.

Set Up Automatic Access to the Journalist Interface

Since the Journalist Interface is an authenticated onion service, you must set up the Journalist Workstation to auto-configure Tor, similarly to the Admin Workstation. The procedure is essentially identical, except the SSH configuration will be skipped, since only admins need to access the servers over SSH.

  • First, boot into the Admin Workstation and copy the following v3 service files to a Transfer Device:


    Then, boot into the new Journalist Workstation USB.


Do not copy the app-ssh.auth_private, mon-ssh.auth_private, or tor_v3_keys.json files to the Journalist Workstation. Those files contain private keys and authentication information for SSH server access. Only the Admin Workstation should have shell access to the servers.

  • Install the SecureDrop application code on the workstation’s persistent volume, following the documentation for cloning the SecureDrop repository.

  • Copy the files from the Transfer Device to ~/Persistent/securedrop/install_files/ansible-base

  • Open a terminal and run the following commands:

    sudo apt update
    cd ~/Persistent/securedrop
    ./securedrop-admin setup
    ./securedrop-admin tailsconfig


    The setup command may take several minutes, and may fail partway due to network issues. If so, run it again before proceeding.

  • Once the tailsconfig command is complete, verify that the Source and Journalist Interfaces are accessible at their v3 addresses via the SecureDrop Menu.

  • Securely wipe the files on the Transfer Device, by right-clicking them in the file manager and selecting Wipe.


The app-journalist.auth_private file contains secret authentication information for the authenticated onion service used by the Journalist Interface, and should not be shared except through the onboarding process.

Add an account on the Journalist Interface

Finally, you need to add an account on the Journalist Interface so the journalist can log in and access submissions. See the section on Adding Users in the admin Guide.

Provision a personal Transfer Device and Export Device

In small organizations, a team of journalists may want to share a single Transfer Device and a single Export Device. In larger organizations, you may want to provision a personal Transfer Device and Export Device for each journalist who may need to copy files off the Secure Viewing Station. Please see the setup guide for more information.

Verify Journalist Setup

Once the journalist device and account have been provisioned, then the admin should run through the following steps with each journalist to verify the journalist is set up for SecureDrop.

The journalist should verify that they:

  1. Have their own Journalist Workstation USB drive that they are able to boot on the computer designated for this purpose (which can be their everyday laptop).


It is important that they test exactly on the computer they will be using as the Journalist Workstation, as there can be differences in Tails compatibility between different laptop models.

  1. Verify they are able to decrypt the persistent volume on the Journalist Workstation.

  2. Ensure that they can connect to and login to the Journalist Interface.

  3. Ensure that they have a Transfer Device, and access to its passphrase.

  4. Verify they have access to the Secure Viewing Station by plugging in the Secure Viewing Station USB drive into the air-gapped computer designated for this purpose, booting, and verifying they can decrypt the persistent volume.


It is especially important to only boot the Secure Viewing Station USB drive on the air-gapped computer designated for this purpose.

  1. Verify the Submission Private Key is present in the Secure Viewing Station persistent volume by clicking the clipboard icon gpgApplet in the top right corner of the Tails desktop and selecting “Manage Keys”. When clicking “GnuPG keys” the key should be present.


The journalist should have all the credentials used in this checklist saved in the KeePassXC database stored in the persistent volume of the Journalist Workstation.

  1. If you are using a printer, verify that they are able to print a document from the Secure Viewing Station. If you are using an Export Device, verify that they are able to unlock the encrypted volume.

At this point, the journalist has verified they have the devices and credentials they need and can proceed to a walkthrough of the entire SecureDrop workflow.