Upgrade Tails from 1.x to 2.x

Starting with SecureDrop version 0.3.7, SecureDrop’s Tails integration leverages improvements to the Tails OS since the introduction of Tails 2.0. It is critical to upgrade all of your Tails USBs to the latest version of Tails before upgrading SecureDrop to 0.3.7 or later.


Tails 1.x is no longer receiving updates, and is therefore vulnerable to a growing list of security vulnerabilities. We strongly encourage you to upgrade all of your Tails USBs to the latest version of Tails as soon as possible.

Upgrading Tails from 1.x to 2.x must be done manually. Please follow this guide to updating each Tails USB stick used in your SecureDrop instance. Be sure to use the Secure Viewing Station computer so you benefit from its airgap while transferring sensitive data.


You will need:

  1. A master Tails USB running the most recent version of Tails (at least v2.3).
  2. A backup device, a separate, encrypted USB drive used to store backups of the old Tails sticks.
  3. Your existing SecureDrop Tails USB sticks (Admin, Journalist, and Secure Viewing Station).
  4. An airgapped machine to perform the Tails upgrades. It is ok to reuse the Secure Viewing Station for this task.

An airgapped machine (such as the SVS) 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 all 3 devices at the same time. If you don’t have 3 USB ports available, you can use a USB hub, which may reduce transfer speeds.

Upgrade Each Tails Device

1. Prepare the Master Tails USB

Because Tails 2.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 2.x USB, boot into it from your airgapped computer to perform the next steps. At the Tails Greeter screen, be sure to enable admin privileges.

2. Prepare the Backup Device

We will use the Tails Installer to upgrade your Tails 1.x USB to Tails 2.x. While this usually works without any issues, we’re going to start by making backups of the important data on your current Tails USBs, so you can use them for recovery in case something goes wrong.


While it’s recommended to use a fresh USB stick for any backup operation, to cut down on cost, clutter, and/or waste, you may also repurpose old USB sticks to function as Backup Devices. Note that this process will permanently erase any data stored on the Backup Device.

After logging into the master Tails device, open the Disks Utility by navigating to Applications ▸ Utilities ▸ Disks. Insert the Backup Device into a USB port. It will appear in the list of disks in the left column. Select it.

Selected Backup Device

Click the button with the interlocking gears icon and choose Format….


Fill out the Format Volume settings as shown in the screenshot below. There’s no need to overwrite existing data, and doing so can take a long time. You should use a strong passphrase to encrypt the drive.


If you plan on using this USB stick as a permanent backup, you will be responsible for retaining this passphrase for the long-haul. If you only want to use this USB as an intermediary backup, and plan on discarding the data after a successful migration, you may discard the passphrase once all steps are completed.

Format Settings

Click Format…. A dialog box will ask: “Are you sure you want to format the volume?”. Click Format.

While the drive is being formatted, you will see a spinning progress indicator next to the drive’s name in the left column. Wait until it is done. When it is done, you will see the partition layout has two nested partitions (LUKS and ext4), like this:


You’re ready to start backing up your current Tails USBs.

3. Backup a Tails USB

Insert the Tails USB (that you want to back up) into a free USB port.

Mount it by navigating to Places ▸ Computer, and clicking on the encrypted disk. You will be prompted to enter the passphrase to unlock the disk (the same passphrase you normally use to log into Tails on that USB stick).

Open a Nautilus window with admin privileges by navigating to Applications ▸ System Tools ▸ Root Terminal. At the terminal prompt, simply type nautilus.

Root Terminal

The Nautilus window should show both the Backup Device and the TailsData partition as mounted.

Migrate Data 1

Copy the all data from the TailsData partition onto the Backup Device except:

  • persistence.conf
    In older versions of Tails, this file might have slightly different directives in it that could temporarily brick a Tails 2.x USB.
  • claws-mail
    Claws Mail is no longer included in Tails. The OS uses Icebird instead. Some users might not have this folder, so if you don’t see it there, do not be alarmed.

Migrate Data 2

Ensure that all critical data has been successfully copied. Specifically, be sure the the gnupg, bookmarks, and Persistent folders are completely copied. Any loss of data from these folders could prevent users from accessing submissions.


Create subdirectories for each USB drive (Admin, Journalist, and SVS) within the Backup Device. Not only will doing so speed up the upgrade process, it will also provide you with long-term encrypted backups of the USB devices. In the event of a lost or stolen drive, you can restore access via this encrypted backup device.

Once data are correctly copied, unmount the TailsData partition.

4. Upgrade a Tails USB

With the Admin/Journo/SVS Tails USB still inserted in the machine, navigate to Applications ▸ Tails ▸ Tails Installer and select the Upgrade by cloning option.

Upgrade by cloning

Select the Tails 1.x USB that you wish to upgrade from the drop-down menu labeled Target Device. If it is the only other USB plugged in to the computer, it should be automatically selected.

Select Target Device

The clone process will take a few minutes, and will display a message once it is complete. If you see an error message about the device not being ready, try unplugging and remounting the Tails device you’re trying to upgrade.

5. Re-Install the Automatic Tails Configuration


This step is only applicable to the Admin Workstation and Journalist Workstation Tails USBs. If you are upgrading the Secure Viewing Station Tails USB, you can skip this step.

Shut down the Tails USB on the airgapped computer and move it to the computer you normally use it on. Boot into each newly upgraded Tails USB, enabling persistence, and setting a root password. Confirm that the persistent files are present on the upgraded Tails USB. If they are not, or something else went wrong, see Troubleshooting.

Now that you have successfully upgraded to Tails 2.x with your persistence intact, the final step is to re-install the Tails automatic configuration from the latest version of SecureDrop (0.3.7 or later). The Tails auto-configuration was originally set up during installation in Configure the Admin Workstation Post-Install and Onboard Journalists. There were enough changes in Tails 2.x that we had to update various aspects of the auto-configuration to work properly on it, which is why you need to re-install.

Once you’ve ensured that you’re running SecureDrop 0.3.7 or later, you can re-install the Tails auto-configuration:

./securedrop-admin tailsconfig

This is the same process as described in Configure the Admin Workstation Post-Install (for the Admin Workstation) and Onboard Journalists (for the Journalist Workstations). If you have questions, consult that documentation first.

When you’re done, repeat this final step on the rest of the Tails devices. Once you have re-installed the Tails auto-configuration on all of the Tails devices, move on to the Finishing up section below.

Finishing Up

Verify All Devices Are Working

Shut down each Tails USB on the airgapped computer and move it to the computer you normally use it on. Boot into each newly upgraded Tails USB, enabling persistence. Confirm that the persistent files are present and that your workflow is unaffected.

As a test, consider submitting a test submission, downloading it on the Journalist Workstation, and finally decrypting it on the SVS. If you are able to decrypt the submission successfully, you have verified that the Journalist Workstation and SVS are working correctly after the upgrade.

To test the Admin Workstation, make sure you can still SSH into the servers:

$ ssh <username>@<*Application Server* .onion address> hostname
$ ssh <username>@<*Monitor Server* .onion address> hostname


If you forgot, your SSH username is in install_files/ansible-base/group_vars/all/site-specific as the value of the ssh_users variable. The .onion addresses for SSH for each server are in install_files/ansible-base/app-ssh-aths and install_files/ansible-base/mon-ssh-aths, respectively.


Consider retaining the encrypted backup drive as a disaster recovery device. Document the passphrase in the Admin Workstation KeePassX database, and store the physical Backup Device in a locked safe or other secure location.

Wipe the Backup Device

If you do not have a secure location for storing the backups, or already have other backups, you should wipe the Backup Device. There is a lot of debate over the best way to do this, but we think it’s sufficient to simply overwrite it with random data a couple of times. Since the Backup Device is encrypted with LUKS, which employs a number of anti-forensic-recovery techniques, this should be enough to prevent forensic recovery.

First, find the path to the Backup Device. You can find the path with the Disks application, selecting the drive in the left column, and looking at the Device entry. It is usually a string that starts with /dev/sd.


Make sure you use the correct path for the Backup Device in the next command! Otherwise, you run the risk of irreversibly wiping a different drive on the system, such as the Tails USB you are running.

To overwrite the Backup Device, open a Terminal and run:

dd if=/dev/urandom of=<path to Backup Device>

Re-run this command at least twice. Each run will take a while.

If you want to reuse the drive for another purpose, use the Disks utility to reformat it appropriately.


While it probably isn’t necessary to physically destroy a Backup Device (because it’s encrypted, and LUKS is designed to thwart forensic recovery), if you’re really paranoid you can additionally smash the device with a hammer until the chips containing its flash memory are broken up, then dispose of the pieces in the garbage.


The steps described above should cleanly update your Tails devices without issue. In the event that one or more of your upgraded Tails USBs are not working as expected, don’t worry: you can still manually restore from the Backup Device you created. (Isn’t it great to have backups?)

1. Restore Data from the Backup Device

On the same airgapped machine, boot up the Tails USB stick you want to restore, with both persistence and admin privileges. Insert your Backup Device into a free USB port, and mount it by navigating to Places ▸ Computer, and clicking on the encrypted disk. You will be prompted to enter its passphrase.

Open a Nautilus window with admin privileges by navigating to Applications ▸ System Tools ▸ Root Terminal. At the terminal prompt, simply type nautilus and hit Enter. Type ctrl + l, type /live/persistence/TailsData_unlocked, and hit Enter to navigate there.

Navigate to TailsData_unlocked


Open a new tab in Nautilus (ctrl + t) and navigate to your Backup Device. Drag and drop the backup data from your Backup Device onto the TailsData_unlocked tab.

When copying a folder, select the Apply this action to all files option and click Merge to apply to all subfolders. Then you might have to select again the Apply this action to all files option and click Replace to apply to all files.

In a root terminal, or as sudo, execute the following command to fix the ownership of your personal files:

find /live/persistence/TailsData_unlocked/ -uid 1000 -exec chown -R 1000:1000 '{}' \;

2. Verify the Restored Data

Shut down, and reboot the Tails USB. Now that you’ve restored the files, you should re-do the post-upgrade verification to make sure everything is working correctly.