Decommission SecureDrop

The following steps will guide you through the decommissioning of your SecureDrop instance.

  1. Put a notice in advance on your landing page to inform sources that your instance will soon be retired. You may want to direct them to other secure methods of contacting you.

  2. Locate and create an inventory of all your hardware.
    • Journalist Workstation USBs

    • Admin Workstation USBs

    • Secure Viewing Station USB

    • Secure Viewing Station computer

    • Transfer and Export Devices (USBs, optical drives, or external drives)

    • Backup USBs/other storage media

    • Servers

    • Firewall

    You may also want to inventory credentials, such as the email address or alias and PGP key used for receiving OSSEC alerts, in order to retire them.


    The recommended SecureDrop setup includes only one Secure Viewing Station USB. However, if you have been working remotely or have a non-standard setup, you may have more than one SVS USB. It is important that you locate all of these USBs, since they hold the most sensitive data.

  3. Optional: Save a backup. If you want to save a backup of the Application Server (for example, to reinstall SecureDrop in the future using the same .onion address), follow our backup guidelines. Once the backup has been created, you can move it off of the Admin Workstation USB and onto an encrypted device, such as a LUKS-encrypted drive. You will also require a backup of the Submission Key found on the SVS.

    If you do not require a server backup, you may choose to download specific submissions, and store them in a secure manner (such as on an encrypted drive). If you export and store these submissions without first decrypting them on the SVS, be sure you maintain access to the Submission Private Key found on the SVS so that you can decrypt them at a later time.

  4. Optional: Delete submissions on the server. Log into the Journalist Interface and delete all sources to take advantage of SecureDrop’s secure deletion properties. Note that depending on the number of sources on your server, it may take anywhere from several minutes to an hour or more for the submissions to be completely deleted from the server.

    You can either leave the server ample time to complete this operation, or monitor the progress by SSHing to the Application server and running

    sudo journalctl -f

    You will see repeated log lines that contain the following:

    [Timestamp] app python [...] INFO Clearing shredder
    [Timestamp] app python [...] INFO Files to delete: <number>

    When the number of files to delete reaches 0, the process is complete.

  5. Disconnect the firewall and the servers from the internet. Be sure to inform your network administrator of any changes to devices on your network.

  6. Wipe and destroy the USB drives. Because the USB drives used for SecureDrop are all LUKS-encrypted, reformatting the USB drives (in particular, overwriting a portion of internal storage called the LUKS header) should be sufficient to make any existing data on those drives unrecoverable.

    For example, you could use your primary Tails USB to launch Gnome Disks, insert and identify the USB drive you are trying to erase, and reformat this drive with a new, LUKS-encrypted partition, erasing the existing partition data.


    Be very sure you are reformatting the right drive. You may want to use the Secure Viewing Station laptop for this procedure to reduce the risk of accidentally erasing a drive on your regular-use machine.

    You may also choose to destroy the drives by physical means, such as using a hammer or purpose-built shredder to pulverize or destroy the drive.

  7. Wipe and destroy the storage drives on the servers. SecureDrop submissions are stored GPG-encrypted on the Application Server. Unless your SecureDrop Submission Key is compromised (or a significant vulnerability in GPG is discovered), access to the servers does not guarantee access to the submissions and messages you have received.

    That said, there may still be some sensitive information on the servers, including system logs and the SecureDrop database, which would yield information on the number of submissions and replies stored on the server. This risk is partially mitigated by securely deleting submissions from the server, as described in a previous step; however, physically destroying or encrypting the storage drives on the servers are the best ways to ensure that data on the drives cannot be recovered.

    Physically destroying SSD drives is not as straightforward as destroying older hard drives, but drives can be pulverized, shredded, or incinerated, as long as the flash chips are destroyed.

    If those options are not available, you may choose instead to write over the information on the existing drives. Most SSDs support ATA Secure Erase, although the implementation of this feature varies by manufacturer.

    Another option is to re-install a clean version of Ubuntu server with full- disk encryption enabled. During the disk-partitioning portion of the installation wizard, select Guided - use entire disk and set up encrypted LVM. You will need to reclaim the space that was taken up by your previous installation, so whenever prompted to unmount and reclaim unused partitions, select “yes.”

  8. Destroy other Transfer or Export media, if applicable.

  9. Optional: Factory-reset the firewall.

  10. Update your Landing Page (tips page) to reflect the fact that your organization no longer has SecureDrop.

  11. Notify the SecureDrop Support team that your instance is no longer active. If you have any questions about the decommissioning process, or about other secure communications options, please feel free to contact us at (GPG encrypted) or via the support portal.