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:
Next, scroll down the options until you see the Keychain icon, and tick the checkbox next to it.
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).
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).
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.
If you’re wondering where the passwords and details are actually stored on your Mac, open the Keychain Access application (use Cmd–Space 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.
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”).
Next, in Safari, any website that has already stored a username and password will have its fields automatically completed for you.
A password will be suggested if you’re creating a login for the first time:
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.
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).
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).
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:
When choosing to add a new card, enter the relevant details as shown below:
Note that you can also view your credit card entries in Keychain Access:
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:
In order to get this to work seamlessly, go to Settings -> Safari -> Passwords & AutoFill and turn on the options shown below.
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):
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.
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.