Set Up the Secure Viewing Station

The Secure Viewing Station is the computer where journalists read and respond to SecureDrop submissions. Once submissions are encrypted on the Application Server, only the Secure Viewing Station has the key to decrypt them. The Secure Viewing Station is never connected to the internet or a local network, and only ever runs from a dedicated Tails drive. Journalists download encrypted submissions using their Journalist Workstation, copy them to a Transfer Device (a USB drive or a DVD) and physically transfer the Transfer Device to the Secure Viewing Station.

Since the Secure Viewing Station never uses a network connection or an internal hard drive, we recommend that you physically remove any internal storage devices or networking hardware such as wireless cards or Bluetooth adapters. If the machine has network ports you can’t physically remove, you should clearly cover these ports with labels noting not to use them. For an even safer approach, fill a port with epoxy to physically disable it. We also recommend you remove the speakers from the device (or just cut the audio cables if that’s easier). This is to prevent exfiltration of data from the airgap via ultrasonic audio, which cannot be heard by humans. If you have questions about repurposing hardware for the Secure Viewing Station, contact the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

You should have a Tails drive clearly labeled “SecureDrop Secure Viewing Station”. If it’s not labeled, label it right now, then boot it on the Secure Viewing Station. After it loads, you should see a “Welcome to Tails” screen with two options. Select Yes to enable the persistent volume and enter your password, but do NOT click Login yet. Under ‘More Options,’ select Yes and click Forward.

Enter an Administration password for use with this specific Tails session and click Login.


The Administration password is a one-time password. It is reset every time you shut down Tails.

We will now prepare the Secure Viewing Station.

Ensure Filenames are Preserved

In order to preserve filenames when you decrypt submissions, on each Secure Viewing Station, you should open a Terminal and type 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.

Correct the System Time

After booting up Tails on the Secure Viewing Station, you will need to manually set the system time before you create the SecureDrop Submission Key. Be sure to enable admin privileges before you do this. In Tails 3.x, you enable admin privileges by clicking the + button under Additional Settings, then navigating to Administration Password. Enter an administration password and then click Start Tails.

To set the system time:

  1. Click the upper right down arrow in the menu bar and select the wrench icon: select settings
  2. Then click Date & Time.
  3. Click Unlock. Type in the admin password you set when you started up Tails.
  4. Set the correct time, region and city.
  5. Click Lock, exit Settings and wait for the system time to update in the top panel.