How to use iCloud Keychain in Mavericks

iCloud Keychain is a new feature introduced in OS X Mavericks that’s designed to make it easier to remember and fill in passwords on websites. But not only does it remember passwords,  it will sync them to all your Apple devices, as well as suggest secure passwords in addition to saving credit card details (minus the security code).

iCloud Keychain is not as comprehensive as some of the more well known password managers (such as 1Password) and isn’t quite as flexible, but it does make life considerably easier and is a convenient feature nevertheless. However in terms of drawbacks, when a new password is automatically suggested, it’s not possible to change the length of the password or to use a different combination of alphanumeric characters. In other words, you’re still limited to the predefined format that Apple mandates. Additionally, it only works in Safari and not other browsers or applications.

How to setup iCloud Keychain

Enabling iCloud Keychain on the Mac is very simple: just open Settings and tap the iCloud icon to open the iCloud preferences:

iCloud Settings

iCloud Settings can be found under Preferences

Next, scroll down the options until you see the Keychain icon, and tick the checkbox next to it.

Enable iCloud Keychain

Click the checkbox to enable iCloud Keychain

You will then be prompted to enter your Apple ID password (which is normally just the email address that you use for iTunes and other Apple services).

Authorise iCloud Keychain

Enter your Apple ID to authorise iCloud Keychain

When using iCloud Keychain for the very first time, you will be asked to enter a 4-digit security code. However, if you’ve previously completed that step on another Apple device you also have the option to request approval from one of those devices (such as your iPhone or iPad, or even another Mac).

Use Another Device

Request for approval can be sent to your other devices (if they’re already setup), or use a PIN

You are then presented with a dialog box stating that a request for approval has been sent to your other devices. On one of those devices you own, enter your Apple ID to approve the request. You’ll then notice that the iCloud settings screen on the Mac will say “Waiting for approval”. Once you’ve approved the Mac, the checkbox will update and appear as approved.

Approve on iPhone

Approving your computer from an iOS devices is simple

If you’re wondering where the passwords and details are actually stored on your Mac, open the Keychain Access application (use CmdSpace to open Spotlight and type in “Keychain” to find it , or just open your Applications -> Utilities folder and select the icon).

When Keychain opens, select iCloud from the list of keychains on the left, and you’ll see the various items displayed in the main window. Double-clicking on any item (or using the “i” button) opens it so that you can view the details. Normally, you would rarely need to use Keychain Access itself, but it can be useful if you want to remove old entries or amend existing ones – for example, on inspecting my keychain, I found lots of old WiFi access point passwords from hotels and friends’ houses, which I just deleted.

Keychain Details

All your iCloud Keychain details can be found in the Keychain Access application

Using iCloud Keychain on the Mac

First, make sure that Autofill is setup in Safari. Go to Safari -> Preferences, select the AutoFill tab and check all the relevant categories (such as “User names and passwords” and “credit cards”).

Safari preferences

Make sure you’ve turned on relevant options in Safari

Next, in Safari, any website that has already stored a username and password will have its fields automatically completed for you.

AutoFill Password Approval

Select the password to automatically populate the field

A password will be suggested if you’re creating a login for the first time:

iCloud Suggested Password

iCloud Keychain will suggest hard to guess passwords for you

You’ll notice that if you have more than one account for a particular website (such as Facebook), you can also choose which account you’d like to use.

Multiple Username Login

You can also choose from multiple accounts

Sometimes however, various websites request that the password is not saved. In the example below, I’ve created a new Twitter account, but in this case the Twitter password has not been saved by iCloud Keychain (this can be overridden so that they are always saved, at least in iOS).

Suggest password

Some websites request the password is not saved

In the case of credit cards, entering a credit card number on a website in Safari will open a popup that lets you choose previously entered credit cards (or entering a new one prompts you to save it).

Use Credit Card

Credit card information can be automatically filled in

You can also tap the option Add or Remove Credit Cards (or select the credit cards option in Safari’s Autofill settings) to manage your cards as shown:

Use Credit Card

Adding and removing cards can be done via Safari on the Mac

When choosing to add a new card, enter the relevant details as shown below:

Add a new Credit Card

To add a new card, click “Add” and enter your details

Note that you can also view your credit card entries in Keychain Access:

Credit Cards in Keychain Access

Keychain Access also stores your iCloud-based credit cards

Using iCloud Keychain on an iOS Device

Back to iOS, when entering a user name and password, Safari automatically completes the relevant fields for you:

AutoFill Passwords in Safari iOS

Safari on iOS will automatically complete your usernames and passwords

In order to get this to work seamlessly, go to Settings -> Safari -> Passwords & AutoFill and turn on the options shown below.

iOS Safari Configuration

In the Credit Cards section, you’ll see all the credit cards that you’ve previously saved. There is also an option to add a new credit card (or edit existing ones):

Add a Credit Card in iOS

Add or edit credit cards in iOS

New cards can be added simply enough – enter the cardholder details, number, expiration date and a description. Once you’ve completed that, the card is saved by iCloud (but note that the 3-digit CCV security number is not saved), and synchronised across all your devices.

Edit Credit Cards iOS

The card number and expiry is saved for you

That’s pretty much all there is to using iCloud Keychain. There aren’t a lot of features or configuration options, and setup is fairly simple. Hopefully, this will make it easier to logon to websites and also to enter your payment information when shopping online. And we can’t wait to see the new features and improvements that will no doubt be added to iCloud Keychain in the future.


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Chris Lee

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