Backup and Restore SecureDrop

There are a number of reasons why you might want to backup and restore your SecureDrop. You may want to move an existing SecureDrop installation to new hardware. Performing such a migration consists of:

  1. Backup the existing installation.
  2. Do a new install of the same version of SecureDrop on the new hardware.
  3. Restore the backup to the new installation.

Maintaining periodic backups are generally a good practice to guard against data loss. In the event of hardware failure on the SecureDrop servers, having a recent backup will enable you to redeploy the system without changing Onion URLs, recreating Journalist accounts, or losing historical submissions from sources.


Currently only the Application Server is backed up and restored, including historical submissions and Source and Journalist Interface URLs. The Monitor Server will be configured from scratch in the event of a hardware migration.

Minimizing disk space

Since the backup and restore operations both involve transferring all of your SecureDrop’s stored submissions over Tor, the process can take a long time. To save time and improve reliability for the transfers, take a moment to clean up older submissions in the Journalist Interface. As a general practice, you should encourage your Journalists to delete submissions from the Journalist Interface regularly.


The throughput of a Tor Hidden Service seems to average around 150 kB/s, or roughly 4 hours for 2GB. Plan your backup and restore accordingly.

You can use the following command to determine the volume of submissions currently on the Application Server by SSHing in and running sudo du -sh /var/lib/securedrop/store.


Submissions are deleted asynchronously and one at a time, so if you delete a lot of submissions through the Journalist Interface, it may take a while for all of the submissions to actually be deleted. This is especially true because SecureDrop uses srm to securely erase file submissions, which takes significantly more time than normal file deletion. You can monitor the progress of queued deletion jobs with sudo tail -f /var/log/securedrop_worker/err.log.

If you find you cannot perform a backup or restore due to this constraint, and have already deleted old submissions from the Journalist Interface, contact us through the SecureDrop Support Portal.

Backing Up

Open a Terminal on the Admin Workstation and cd to your clone of the SecureDrop git repository (usually ~/Persistent/securedrop). Ensure you have SecureDrop version 0.4 or later checked out (you can run git describe --exact-match to see what Git tag you’ve checked out).


The backups are stored in the Admin Workstation‘s persistent volume. You should verify that you have enough space to store the backups before running the backup command.

You can use the du command described earlier to get the approximate size of the backup file (since the majority of the backup archive is the stored submissions), and you can use Tails’ Disks utility to see how much free space you have on your persistent volume.

Check connectivity

First, verify that your Admin Workstation is able to run Ansible and connect to the SecureDrop servers.

ssh app uptime

If this command fails (usually with an error like “SSH Error: data could not be sent to the remote host. Make sure this host can be reached over ssh”), you need to debug your connectivity before proceeding further. Make sure:

Create the backup


./securedrop-admin backup

The backup action will display itemized progress as the backup is created. Run time will vary depending on the number of submissions saved on the Application Server.

When the backup action is complete, the backup will be stored as a tar archive in install_files/ansible-base. The filename will start with sd-backup, have a timestamp of when the backup was initiated, and end with .tar.gz. You can find the full path to the backup archive in the output of backup action.


The backup file contains sensitive information! It should only be stored on the Admin Workstation, or on a dedicated encrypted backup USB.



The process for restoring a backup is very similar to the process of creating one. As before, to get started, boot the Admin Workstation, cd to the SecureDrop repository, and ensure that you have SecureDrop 0.4 or later checked out.

The restore role expects to find a .tar.gz backup archive in install_files/ansible-base under the SecureDrop repository root directory. If you are using the same Admin Workstation to do a restore from a previous backup, it should already be there because it was placed there by the backup role. Otherwise, you should copy the backup archive that you wish to restore to install_files/ansible-base.


The backup strategy used for SecureDrop versions prior to 0.3.7 created encrypted archives with the extension .zip.gpg. You can safely remove those files once you’ve created the .tar.gz backup archive described in this guide.

Restoring from a backup file

To perform a restore, you must already have a backup archive. Provide its filename in the following command:

./securedrop-admin restore sd-backup-2017-07-22--01-06-25.tar.gz

Make sure to replace sd-backup-2017-07-22--01-06-25.tar.gz with the filename for your backup archive. The backup archives are located in install_files/ansible-base.

Once the restore is done, the Application Server will use the original Source and Journalist Interface Onion URLs. You will need to update the corresponding files on the Admin Workstation:

  • app-source-ths
  • app-journalist-aths
  • app-ssh-aths

Then rerun ./securedrop-admin tailsconfig to update the Admin Workstation to use the restored Onion URLs again. See Configure the Admin Workstation Post-Install for detailed instructions.