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iCloud Keychain is a secure password manager for both OS X Mavericks for Mac and iOS 7 for iPhone and iPad. Use it to quickly and easily log into websites, Wi-Fi networks, Internet accounts, and more. It’s particularly useful with Safari on an iPhone or iPad, where it gives you an integrated, syncing password filler.

Here’s how it works, why you want it and how to set it up.

How it Works

When you set up iCloud Keychain, you’ll have to enter your Apple ID and its associated password. You’ll also have to create an iCloud Security Code, which you’ll need to gain access to your iCloud Keychain. Your data is encrypted on your devices and when stored on Apple’s servers.

When you set up iCloud Keychain on a new device, you’ll have to agree to a notification that appears on your existing iCloud Keychain device. If you don’t have a device set up, you’ll need your iCloud Security Code and an SMS message sent to the phone number associated with your account.

iCloud Keychain syncs Safari website logins, credit card information, and Wi-Fi passphrases. It also keeps Mail, Contacts, Calendar, Messages, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts synchronized.

It’s not a fully-featured password manager Let 1Password for Mac Manage Your Passwords & Secure Data Let 1Password for Mac Manage Your Passwords & Secure Data Despite the new iCloud Keychain feature in OS X Mavericks, I still prefer the power of managing my passwords in AgileBits's classic and popular 1Password, now in its 4th version. Read More and doesn’t have all the features you’ll find in third-party password managers. Instead, it’s a secure way to sync all the passwords and other sensitive data you enter to all your Apple devices so you’ll only have to enter them once.

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iCloud Keychain on a Mac

To get started with iCloud Keychain on a Mac running OS X Mavericks Secrets of OS X Mavericks: What You Really Need To Know Secrets of OS X Mavericks: What You Really Need To Know You probably already know about the major features of the latest, free upgrade for Mac OS X. Here are the hidden ones. Read More , click the Apple menu at the top of your screen and select System Preferences. Click the iCloud icon and ensure the Keychain option is selected. If you don’t want to use iCloud Keychain, just uncheck it here.

You can then open the Keychain Access program to view your keychain. Press Command + Space to open Spotlight, type “Keychain”, and launch the Keychain Access application (the quickest way to launch any Mac application).

Select the iCloud sub-head in the left-hand panel to view data synced with your iCloud Keychain. Note that any existing website passwords, Internet accounts, and Wi-Fi passphrases on your Mac will be automatically synchronized with iCloud.

This keychain data will be used automatically in the appropriate application. For example, you can control Safari’s password autofill behavior from the Passwords pane in Safari’s Preferences window.

iCloud Keychain on iOS

iOS 7 will automatically prompt you to set up iCloud Keychain when you go through the setup process. You can confirm it’s enabled by opening the Settings app, selecting iCloud, and ensuring the Keychain option is set to On. If it isn’t, you can enable iCloud Keychain from here too.

When you use Safari to log into a website, you’ll be asked whether you want to save the password to your iCloud Keychain so you can use it on all your devices. Any saved passwords will be automatically used in Safari.

As on a Mac, you can control the saved Safari data via Safari’s settings (Settings > Safari > Passwords & AutoFill). iCloud Keychain is simple to use — after you set it up, it’s basically transparent, syncing saved passwords and other sensitive data in the background.

Why You Might Want to Use iCloud Keychain

iCloud Keychain is clearly useful, offering a way to synchronize passwords, credentials, and other private data between all your devices. It’s a time-saver, particularly when it comes to logging into websites on an iPhone or iPad. Apple has gone to the trouble of adding encryption, an entirely separate iCloud Security Code system, and an authentication procedure that involves either existing devices or an SMS message to your cell phone number. This gives iCloud Keychain a solid security base to build on. It’s also completely free.

Apple’s iCloud Keychain is also the only password manager that works inside Safari on iOS. Other password managers, like LastPass and 1Password, have to provide their own apps that function as browsers because they can’t integrate with Safari. Of course, these password managers can integrate with Safari on a Mac, and have their own dedicated iOS apps.

iCloud Keychain Downsides

There are some significant drawbacks to iCloud Keychain when it comes to more full-featured password management solutions like LastPass LastPass Premium: Treat Yourself To The Best Password Management Ever [Rewards] LastPass Premium: Treat Yourself To The Best Password Management Ever [Rewards] If you've never heard of LastPass, I'm sorry to say that you have been living under a rock. However, you are reading this article, so you've already made a step in the right direction. LastPass... Read More and 1Password Let 1Password for Mac Manage Your Passwords & Secure Data Let 1Password for Mac Manage Your Passwords & Secure Data Despite the new iCloud Keychain feature in OS X Mavericks, I still prefer the power of managing my passwords in AgileBits's classic and popular 1Password, now in its 4th version. Read More , however. iCloud Keychain only works on Apple devices, so you’re out of luck if you ever use a Windows PC or Android device.

There’s also no easy way to use iCloud Keychain to log into apps. When you want to enter a saved password into an app, you’d have to drill down into the Settings app on iOS – not a good experience. This isn’t a problem if you’re just using iCloud keychain to save time as part of Safari, but it’s a concern if you’re using a password manager as your main place to save passwords.

iCloud Keychain also doesn’t generate passwords, so you have to choose your own password when creating accounts on websites. Third-party password managers can generate difficult-to-crack passwords 7 Ways To Make Up Passwords That Are Both Secure & Memorable 7 Ways To Make Up Passwords That Are Both Secure & Memorable Having a different password for each service is a must in today's online world, but there's a terrible weakness to randomly generated passwords: it's impossible to remember them all. But how can you possibly remember... Read More and remember them for you.

So, Should You Use It?

iCloud Keychain is very useful, especially if you don’t already use a password manager. It’s a convenient way to save time when typing the same login information over and over again. However, if you already use LastPass, 1Password, or another dedicated password manager, you may want to slow down and take a serious look at what you’ll be missing if you switch to iCloud Keychain.

Of course, nothing stops you from using both – if nothing else, it will be easier to log into websites in Safari on your iPhone or iPad.

Image Credit: William Warby on Flickr

  1. Bobart36
    November 13, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    iCloud appeared on my iPad and iPhone and started asking for a security code or sometimes for a password for an email account that I have never set up or used before. I have not setup any security code or made any effort to use this "feature" so it is simply an annoyance.The problem I have right now is , what happens if I dump this app, will I suddenly find that something else will be screwed up by this action? I have a satisfactorily full life and I do not want to spend time tweaking what is supposed to be a convenient tool. What is the best way to get away from this time waster?

  2. Anonymous
    April 16, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    Yes iCloud Keychain generates passwords:
    To generate a new, random password for a site on which you’re setting up an account, first make sure the Password field is blank and then click or tap in it. Safari will suggest a password; click or tap it to fill it in and save it in iCloud Keychain.

  3. inknzvl
    January 28, 2014 at 8:15 am

    I found this completely absurd:
    I borrowed my iPad to a friend so he could log in to his FB account, after logging out of FB keychain keeps putting my credentials in the log in fields (email visible, password only dots) no problems so far.
    After my friend erased my credentials and typing his credentials he made an error AND keychain put this msg on top of the credentials field "We will display your password in plain text so that you can log in easily, don't worry your info is secure etc etc" wtf? Now they display my email & password in plain text and now my friend knows my password. Stupid.
    Is there a good reason for this behavior to be like that ?

  4. Dennis D
    January 9, 2014 at 3:51 pm

    Sweet article. I'm STILL learning new features, and I only have the iPhone 4 with iOS 7!

  5. Mattia Campagnano
    January 5, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    Very interesting, thans for posting. I use LastPass but anyway there's to say that LastPass has a downside with iPhone, because only the premium version ($12 per year) is supported while on Apple OS Keychain is free.

  6. Jash Sayani
    January 5, 2014 at 6:47 am

    Nice post. I was checking out my keychain and found several expired certificates and passwords for old wifi networks. Cleaning time.

  7. Harry
    January 4, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Don't forget that although Keychain cannot generate new passwords for you, Safari on OSX Mavercks can.

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