Accessing SecureDrop Remotely¶
While it’s necessary for SecureDrop servers to be hosted on-premise within your organization, and for administrators to retain direct physical access to troubleshoot any potential network-related issues that might arise, there are methods available for both admins and journalists to access the system remotely.
SSH Over Tor¶
By default, SSH access to SecureDrop servers is routed through the Tor network, allowing you to access the servers using an Admin Workstation from anywhere in the world where you have a stable internet connection and are able to access the Tor network.
To do so, simply open a Terminal from your Admin Workstation and run either
ssh app or
ssh mon command, depending on which server you are intending
This is useful for routine maintenance and log investigation tasks, although direct physical access will still be necessary for network-related issues, in situations where SSH access is not available.
For more details about the types of tasks that can be completed via SSH, you can review the SSH portion of our Admin Guide.
If you’d like to make adjustments to the SSH configuration, or disable SSH access over Tor, you can do so by following the steps here.
In addition to remote SSH access, the web-based Admin Interface is also available from an Admin Workstation from any location with a network connection and access to the Tor network.
Remote Secure Viewing Station¶
Risk Mitigation for Remote Secure Viewing Stations¶
To allow uninterrupted access to SecureDrop for individual journalists, it may be worthwhile to set up a Remote Secure Viewing Station.
This may be a good option for organizations with a distributed staff or a strong work-from-home culture, although it’s important to weigh the risks and benefits of setting up remote access by adding additional Secure Viewing Stations (SVS).
This increases the risk of the SVS—and its Submission Key—being compromised.
If you’re considering the use of a remote SVS, here are some steps you can follow to minimize the associated risks:
Provide access to the smallest number of people that is reasonable to ensure sufficient coverage. Individuals with access to a Secure Viewing Station can triage submissions on behalf of other members of your team. This minimizes the risk that the Submission Key falls into the wrong hands.
Ensure that journalists have the necessary hardware off-site to access the Journalist Interface and to work with sensitive data. Discourage the use of personal hardware. Provide assistance to journalists to ensure the physical and digital security of sensitive devices and documents.
Provision a new Secure Viewing Station USB drive. This USB should be on the latest version of Tails, and should contain only the Submission Key. Keep an inventory of any provisioned SVS USBs for later decommissioning purposes. Please see below for a step-by-step guide.
Provide a secure communications method for SecureDrop users and administrators. The chosen procedure should provide end-to-end encryption and ideally guard against the threat of malware. Please see below for some considerations for sharing files securely.
Ensure the physical security of the SecureDrop servers and original SVS while your team works remotely. If the office will be completely unattended, consider storing the original SVS USB with senior staff or legal counsel.
Prepare to respond to the loss or compromise of the remote SVS. At a minimum, this would involve rotating the Submission Key, which would prevent an adversary from decrypting future submissions using the compromised key.
In order to create a new SVS for remote use, you will need the following:
An air-gapped computer similar to the computer being used for your current Secure Viewing Station. This workstation will be used for provisioning the new SVS USB, and will also be used as part of the remote SVS system.
Any computer used as an SVS must be air-gapped by removing or physically disabling all networking hardware (including Bluetooth), and by removing or physically disabling speakers and microphones. A computer used as an SVS should never be used for any other purpose.
An up-to-date Tails USB (the primary Tails USB). You do not need to set up persistent storage on this device, as it will not be used during the SVS setup process.
The current SVS USB, and its persistent volume’s passphrase
A USB key to act as the new SVS USB
Creating New SVS USB Drives¶
To create the new SVS USB:
Boot into Tails using the primary Tails USB on the air-gapped workstation. When you see the welcome dialog, you can proceed without enabling persistence or setting an admin password.
Install Tails on the new SVS USB, following the instructions here.
Boot into the new SVS USB and enable persistence with a strong passphrase (a 6-word Diceware passphrase is recommended). In the Persistent volume configuration wizard, be sure to enable persistence for “GnuPG - GnuPG Keyrings and configuration”.
Temporarily store the persistent volume passphrase in your password manager. You should delete it once you have given the USB and passphrase to the journalist who will be using them.
Reboot the new SVS USB with persistence enabled and an administration password set.
Plug the current SVS USB into a free port on the workstation.
Mount its persistent volume by browsing to Places > Computer, clicking the USB disk in the left-hand column, and entering its persistent volume’s passphrase.
Open a terminal via Applications > Favorites > Terminal
Copy the current SVS’s GPG keychain (which includes the Submission Key) to the new SVS USB using the following command (without linebreaks):
sudo bash -c "rsync -a --no-specials --no-devices \ /media/amnesia/TailsData/gnupg/ \ /live/persistence/TailsData_unlocked/gnupg/"
Eject and remove the current SVS USB.
Verify that the Submission Key is present with the correct fingerprint on the new SVS USB via Applications > Utilities > Passwords and Keys.
The new SVS should now be ready for use. The journalist that will be checking submissions will need the new SVS USB, its Persistent Volume passphrase, and the air-gapped computer—they should be handed over in a secure manner. They should test the regular decryption workflow using the new SVS as part of the handover process.
Protecting, Moving, or Taking Down Your SecureDrop Instance¶
If the location hosting your SecureDrop servers is going to be empty for extended periods of time, you should take steps to ensure the security of your servers and associated hardware:
Ensure that the room where the servers are installed is locked by default, and that only authorized personnel have access. If possible, have access logged.
If the server room is covered by CCTV, verify that the footage will be monitored or reviewed periodically.
Ask to have adjacent corridors included in any regular security patrols.
Ask journalists to purge old submissions, to reduce the impact if the servers are compromised (this is good general practice in any case).
If your SecureDrop instance is set up to allow SSH-over-LAN admin access, consider switching it to SSH-over-Tor access instead. To do so, you will need to update the server configuration using the Admin Workstation.
In some cases, if you are not able to ensure the security of your instance during periods of prolonged absence, it may be better to relocate it, or in extreme circumstances, temporarily take it down. If you decide to take down your SecureDrop instance, we recommend the following steps:
Consult with journalists using the system, to ensure that any active sources are aware of the situation, and that source conversations can either be paused or continued via other means.
Update your SecureDrop landing page (typically a “send us tips” page, or a page linked from there) to let prospective sources know that the outage is coming, and optionally to redirect them to other contact methods, such as a shared Signal tipline.
Power down the servers, and remove them and the network firewall from the server room. Store the equipment securely offsite.
By default the SecureDrop servers are not set up with full disk encryption enabled, to allow for hands-off reboots. This means that it is crucial that they be kept secure. If the servers are lost or stolen, an adversary would gain access to all encrypted submissions and messages. While they would not be able to decrypt them, this would still provide valuable metadata about source conversations.
In most cases, restoring the instance, whether in their original hosting location or elsewhere, is a matter of reconnecting the servers to the firewall, attaching a WAN connection that allows unfiltered access to Tor to the firewall WAN port, and powering everything on.