Backup the Workstations

Now that you have set up the Secure Viewing Station, the Admin Workstation, and your Journalist Workstations, it is important you make a backup. Your USB drive may wear out, a journalist might lose their backup drive, or something completely unexpected may happen.

In all these cases, it is useful to have a backup of your data for each device.

What you need

  1. Your existing SecureDrop Tails USB sticks (Admin Workstation, Journalist Workstation, and Secure Viewing Station).
  2. An airgapped machine to perform the Tails upgrades. The Secure Viewing Station may be used for this task.
  3. Your “master” Tails USB, which we will use to perform the backups.
  4. At least one USB drive to backup the data on your current SecureDrop Tails USB sticks.


An airgapped machine (such as the Secure Viewing Station) is required in order to perform these backups safely. By isolating the machine from all network access, you reduce the exposure of sensitive data to networked computers, thereby reducing the threat of compromise by adversaries who wish to gain access to your SecureDrop instance.

The airgapped machine should have 3 USB ports, so you can plug in the Tails drive you wish to upgrade, the master Tails USB drive, and the backup drive at the same time. If you don’t have 3 USB ports available, you can use a USB hub, which may reduce transfer speeds.


The steps in this section should be performed for each Secure Viewing Station, Journalist Workstation, and Admin Workstation USB drive in your organization.

Preparing the Backup Device

Navigate to ApplicationsUtilitiesDisks.

Applications Utilities Disks

Insert the USB drive you wish to use as a backup drive.

Select the drive from the list of drives in the left column.

Select the Disk

Click the button with the two cogs and click Format Partition…

Click Cogs

Fill out the form as follows:

Format Backup Drive

  • Erase: Don’t overwrite existing data (Quick)
  • Type: Encrypted, compatible with Linux systems (LUKS + Ext4)
  • Name: Backup


Since this will serve as a long-term backup, make sure to use a strong passphrase.

Click Format.

A dialog box will appear asking you Are you sure you want to format the volume? appears, click Format.

Once completed, you will see two partitions appear:

Two Partitions Appear

Now that you made the backup device, plug in the device you want to backup. Then, browse to PlacesComputer:

Browse to Places Computer

Click on the disk on the left side column. Fill in the passphrase you usually use when you enable Persistence on that device:

Fill in Passphrase

You should now have both the Backup and TailsData partition to be backed up mounted and ready to access.

Backup and TailsData Mounted

Open a Nautilus window with admin privileges by going to ApplicationsSystem ToolsTerminal.

Open Terminal

Type gksu nautilus at the terminal prompt and hit enter. You’ll need to type your admin passphrase.

Start gksu nautilus


When you run gksu nautilus, you may run into an error where Nautilus complains that it can’t create a required folder. If that happens, just click OK and continue normally.

If a Nautilus window doesn’t come up, it might be because an admin passphrase wasn’t set. If that’s the case, you’ll need to restart and set an admin passphrase before continuing.


Make sure you use keep the Terminal window open while you perform the backups. Otherwise, the Nautilus window will close.

Make sure you create a directory on the backup drive to store the data from the drive you are backing up:

Make Folders for All Drives

Copy over everything in the TailsData partition to the relevant folder on the Backup drive. You can simply drag to select all the files and then copy and paste them to the relevant folder on the Backup drive.

In particular, ensure gnupg and Persistent have been successfully copied over. These files are critical for decrypting submissions.

Once complete, unmount the TailsData partition.

Repeat these steps for every device, making a new folder on the backup device for each device you backup.

Finally, once you have completed the steps described in this section for each USB drive, unmount the Backup partition and store the drive somewhere safely.