Upgrade Tails from 2.x to 3.x

Why you should upgrade

Starting with SecureDrop version 0.4, we require users update to Tails version 3.0 or later. Upgrading Tails from 2.x to 3.x must be done manually. This guide will show you how to upgrade each Tails USB stick used in your SecureDrop instance.

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. Two USB drives: one to create a new master Tails 3.x USB and one 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 upgrades 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.

1. Prepare the master Tails USB

Because Tails 3.x is incompatible with older versions, you must create a new “master” Tails USB stick for subsequent installations and upgrades to the USB sticks already in use by your organization.

To create this brand new master Tails, follow the same directions for provisioning the first USB sticks on another networked computer.

Once you’ve created a new Tails 3.x USB, boot into it from your airgapped computer to perform the remaining steps.

At the Tails Greeter screen, enable admin privileges by setting a root password. In Tails 3.x, you do this by clicking the + button, then navigating to Additional SettingsAdministration Password.

2. Backup the Tails drives


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

Before you upgrade your Tails drives, you should backup the data in case something goes wrong.

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


Make sure you use a strong passphrase if this is a long term backup drive.

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 administrator privileges by going to ApplicationsSystem ToolsTerminal.

Open Terminal

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

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 administrator password wasn’t set. If that’s the case, you’ll need to restart and set an administrator password 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.

3. Upgrade the Tails drives


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

Next you will upgrade each drive.

Begin by inserting the drive you wish to upgrade into the machine.

Navigate to ApplicationsTailsTails Installer.

Tails Installer

Click Upgrade by cloning.

Upgrade by Cloning

Make sure the correct drive is selected.

Tails Cloning

Click Install Tails.

A dialog box will appear asking you to Please confirm your device selection.

Confirm Upgrade

Click Yes to proceed with the installation.


The upgrade can take quite a bit of time, so please be patient!

Once complete, you should see a success message:

Installation Complete

4. Upgrade KeePassX Database

Your password databases will be in KeePass 1 database format (a file that ends in .kdb). You should upgrade them to the new format by following these steps:

  1. Open KeePassX.
  2. Navigate to Database and then Import KeePass 1 database.
  3. Select your password database and click Open.
  4. Put in a master password if necessary to open the database.
  5. Then navigate to Database and then Save database as to save the database in its new format (a file ending in .kdbx) in the same folder as the previous database.

5. Upgrade Secure Viewing Stations

Due to a change in Tails 3, if you wish to preserve the names of files when decrypting, you’ll need to apply the following fix by opening a Terminal on the Secure Viewing Station and typing the following commands:

cd /live/persistence/TailsData_unlocked/dotfiles
echo "/usr/bin/dconf write /org/gnome/nautilus/preferences/automatic-decompression false" > .xsessionrc


This only needs to be done once on each Secure Viewing Station. After a reboot it will persist.

6. Upgrade SecureDrop to 0.4.x

Now that you’ve upgraded the Tails workstation to Tails 3, follow the 0.4.x Upgrade Guide to configure the Tails environment to access your SecureDrop instance. You will need to perform further upgrade steps for the Admin and Journalist Workstations.

After upgrading to 0.4.x, you should move your backup drive to a safe location (if you used a strong passphrase). Else, you should destroy the backup drive following the instructions here.

If you encounter issues

If you run into issues, you can always restore your data from the Backup device following the instructions here.

If you continue to have problems, you can contact us through the SecureDrop Support Portal.