Passphrase Best Practices

All SecureDrop users—Sources, Journalists, and Admins—are required to memorize at least one passphrase. This document describes best practices for passphrase management in the context of SecureDrop.

General Best Practices

  1. Do memorize your passphrase.

  2. If necessary, do write your passphrase down temporarily while you memorize it.


    Do store your written passphrase in a safe place, such as a safe at home or on a piece of paper in your wallet. Do destroy the paper as soon as you feel comfortable that you have the passphrase memorized. Do not store your passphrase on any digital device, such as your computer or mobile phone.

  3. Do review your passphrase regularly. It’s easy to forget a long or complex passphrase if you only use it infrequently.


    We recommend reviewing your passphrase (e.g. by ensuring that you can log in to your SecureDrop account) on at least a monthly basis.

  4. Do not use your passphrase anywhere else.

    If you use your SecureDrop passphrase on another system, a compromise of that system could theoretically be used to compromise SecureDrop. You should avoid reusing passphrases in general, but it is especially important to avoid doing so in the context of SecureDrop.

For Sources

Your passphrase is associated with your pseudonymous account and all of your activity on the SecureDrop server. In order to preserve your anonymity, you should avoid creating physical or digital associations between yourself and your passphrase as much as possible.

For Journalists/Admins

While Sources only have one passphrase that they are required to manage, Journalists and Admins unfortunately have to manage a veritable menagerie of credentials.

We have tried to minimize the number of credentials that Journalists and admins actually have to remember by automating the storage and entry of credentials on the Tails workstations wherever possible. For example, a dedicated SecureDrop Menu is provided on each Tails workstation to make it easy to access the onion services without having to look up their .onion addresses every time.

Ideally, each admin would only have to:

  1. Keep track of their Admin Workstation Tails USB.

  2. Remember the passphrase to unlock the persistent storage on that Tails USB.

And each Journalist would only have to:

  1. Keep track of their Journalist Workstation Tails USB.

  2. Keep track of their Secure Viewing Station Tails USB (and the associated Secure Viewing Station computer).

  3. Remember the passphrases to unlock the persistent storage on both of these Tails USBs.

Memorizing further passphrases beyond the ones listed above is counterproductive: an attacker with access to any of those environments would be able to pivot to anything they wish to access, and increasing the burden of keeping track of additional credentials is unpleasant for journalists and admins and increases the risk that they will either forget their credentials, compromising the availability of the system, or compensate for the difficulty by using weak or reused credentials, potentially compromising the security of the system.

There is a detailed list of the credentials that must be managed by each end user role in Passphrases. We recommended using the KeePassXC password manager included in Tails to store your credentials and minimize the passphrases that you need to memorize to just the passphrases for the persistent storage on your Tails USBs.

For the Transfer Device and the Export Device, which are used to copy files to and from the air-gapped Secure Viewing Station, we recommend using encrypted USB drives with passphrases stored in the journalist’s own password manager (preferably one which is accessible on their smartphone). This ensures that the journalist will have quick access to these passphrases when they need them.

If your organization is not using a password manager already, please see the Freedom of the Press Foundation guide to choosing one.