Off-board Administrators and Journalists

When journalists and SecureDrop administrators leave your organization, it is important to off-board them from SecureDrop.

What you need:


Additional measures may need to be taken if the user’s departure is on unfriendly terms. These measures will vary depending on the circumstances and your own internal incident response procedures, and may include doing a full reinstall of SecureDrop. If you are in such a situation, feel free to contact us for further assistance.

Off-boarding checklist

  • Inform the SecureDrop Support team that the user’s support portal account should be deactivated, and indicate if any new staff members should be added.

  • Delete the user’s account on the Journalist Interface.

  • Retrieve Admin Workstation or Journalist Workstation USB drive(s), Transfer, Export, and Backup drive(s), and any other SecureDrop hardware or materials.

  • If the user receives email alerts (OSSEC alerts or daily submission notifications), either directly or as a member of an email alias, remove them from those alerts and set up someone new to receive those alerts.

  • (Circumstance-dependent) If you have specific concerns that the Submission Key has been compromised, you should consider a full reinstall of SecureDrop. At minimum, you should rotate the Submission Key.

Additional steps for off-boarding administrators

  • If the departing user was your primary SecureDrop admin, designate the next person who will take over their function. Ideally, your outgoing administrator will be able to provide as much training as possible on the use and maintenance of the system, as well as on your organizational policies (such as backup strategies, and so on) before they leave; if this is not the case, contact the SecureDrop Support team.

  • We do not recommend enabling remote management for SecureDrop’s network firewall. However, if your SecureDrop firewall can be accessed remotely, even if only from within your organization’s network, you may want to rotate its login credentials.

  • Back up and rotate the Admin Workstation SSH key to prevent unauthorized SSH access to the Application and Monitor Servers in the event that this user has retained their Admin SSH credentials.

Rotate SSH keys on the SecureDrop Servers

If you are concerned that the user may have a copy of the Admin Workstation USB or that they may have kept a copy of the Admin Workstation SSH key, you should rotate the key in the following manner.

  1. Create a new SSH keypair. From an Admin Workstation, run

    ssh-keygen -t rsa -b 4096

    and make sure to change the key name. This is the only parameter you need to change. For example, instead of /home/amnesia/.ssh/id_rsa, call the key /home/amnesia/.ssh/newkey. You don’t need a passphrase for the key.

  2. Copy new public key to the SecureDrop Servers. Copy the public portion of the key to the Application and Monitor Servers by running

    scp /home/amnesia/.ssh/ scp://app


    scp /home/amnesia/.ssh/ scp://mon
  3. Add this key to the list of authorized keys. SSH to the Application Server and append this new key to the list of authorized keys by using

    cat >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

    Be sure to use the command as above so that you append the key, instead of replacing the file. While you are still on the Application Server, you can then delete the file from wherever you scp’d it to (i.e. your home directory). Repeat this process with the Monitor Server.

  4. Rename SSH keys. Exit all SSH sessions and, on your Admin Workstation, rename id_rsa and (the old SSH keys) to something else. For example,

    mv /home/amnesia/.ssh/id_rsa /home/amnesia/.ssh/id_rsa_old
    mv /home/amnesia/.ssh/ /home/amnesia/.ssh/

    Then, rename your newkey and to id_rsa and

  5. Test SSH connection. Test that you can still ssh into the Application and Monitor Servers (you can test with ssh app host and ssh mon host).

  6. Restrict SSH access to the new key.


    If you have other users who also have SSH access to the Application and Monitor Servers, the next step will revoke their access. Their public keys will have to be re-appended to the authorized_keys file on each server, as in step 3.

From an Admin Workstation, run

~/Persistent/securedrop/securedrop-admin reset_admin_access

This removes all other SSH keys, except for the new key that you are currently using, from the list of authorized keys on the Application and Monitor Servers.

Rotate the Submission Key

The Submission Private Key is held on the airgapped Secure Viewing Station, and is not normally accessed by SecureDrop users anywhere but on the SVS. Therefore, we recommend rotating the Submission Key under the following circumstances:

  • If the user’s departure was not amicable

  • If the user is still holding on to any Secure Viewing Station USB drive or backup

  • If you have any other reason to believe the Submission Private Key or the entire Secure Viewing Station USB may have been copied or compromised.

You should still keep the old key on the Secure Viewing Station, or else you will not be able to decrypt submissions that were sent to you while that key was in effect.

You will need:

  • The Admin Workstation

  • The Secure Viewing Station

  • A Transfer Device (LUKS-encrypted USB drive)

On the Secure Viewing Station

  1. First, change the UID of the current SecureDrop submission key to avoid mixing up the old and new keys.

    From the Secure Viewing Station Applications Menu, choose Utilities ▸ Passwords and Keys, and select the SecureDrop Application Key from the list of available keys.

    select securedrop key

  2. Double-click the key, and in the Names and Signature tab, add a name such as “OLD <Your Organization> SecureDrop Submission Key - Do Not Delete - Retired <Date>”. (This is a local-only change to stop you from mixing up the old and new keys).

    edit key name

  3. Once you have done that, you can delete the original name for the key (but not the key itself!), so that the only name you see is “OLD <Your Organization> Submission Key - Do Not Delete - Retired <Date>”.

    delete key name

  4. Now follow the instructions to create a PGP key on the Secure Viewing Station. This will be your new Submission Key. Copy the fingerprint and new Submission Public Key to your Transfer Device.

On the Admin Workstation


Ensure that your Admin Workstation is up-to-date before performing these steps.

  1. Take the Transfer Device with the new Submission Public Key and fingerprint to your Admin Workstation. As you did during the initial install, copy the public key, SecureDrop.asc, to the install_files/ansible-base/ directory, replacing the existing public key file that is there.

  2. From the ~/Persistent/securedrop directory, run

    ./securedrop-admin sdconfig

    If the new public key that you placed in install_files/ansible-base has the same name as the old public key, SecureDrop.asc, the only part of the configuration you will change is the SecureDrop Submission Key fingerprint, which you will update with the fingerprint of your new key.

  3. Once you have completed the above, run

    ./securedrop-admin install

    to push the changes to the server.

    You may want to immediately create a test submission, then use a Journalist account to log into the Journalist Interface, download your submission, and take it to the Secure Viewing Station.

Return to the Secure Viewing Station

  1. On the Secure Viewing Station, decrypt the test submission you made to ensure that your new key is working properly.

  2. Do not delete your old submission key! You’ll want to maintain it on the SVS so that you can still decrypt old submissions that were made before you changed keys. If you like, you can revoke the key by selecting the key in the Passwords and Keys application, opening the Details tab, highlighting the first key entry and clicking Revoke. This also makes local-only changes and does not stop you or anyone else from using the key, but it is a reminder that your key has changed.

    revoke key

  3. If you have any other Admin Workstations, make sure that you have copied the new Submission Public Key into the install_files/ansible-base directory, replacing the old public key file, and updated the Submission Public Key fingerprint by running

    ./securedrop-admin sdconfig

    and updating the fingerprint when prompted. You do not have to run ./securedrop-admin install again, since you have already pushed the changes to the server.

Getting Support

If you have any questions about the steps in this guide, we’re here to help:

  • Community support is available at

  • If you are already a member of our support portal, please don’t hesitate to open a ticket there. If you would like to request access, please contact us at (GPG encrypted). Note that your ticket will be visible to all support portal users at your organization; if this is a concern, reach out by email to the above address or to a staff member directly.

  • The Freedom of the Press Foundation offers training and priority support services. See for more information.