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iCloud Keychain Explored and Explained


Alongside the release of OS X Mavericks, Apple introduced iCloud Keychain, a utility for saving passwords and credit card information to synchronise them across multiple devices in a secure manner. The utility builds up Apple's previous password management system that limited saved account information to being stored locally, thereby not part of what iCloud would share between all your trusted devices.

In this tutorial, I will show you how to set up your iCloud Keychain, getting it up and running across all your compatible devices.

Ensuring iCloud Keychain Compatibility

iCloud Keychain was released as part of OS X Mavericks and, therefore, you'll first need to check that your Mac is up-to-date. 

Check that your Mac is running OS X 10.9 Mavericks or later by opening About This Mac from the Apple menu in the top-left corner of your screen. When dealing with secure information such as passwords and credit card information, though, it's best to stay updated to the latest version available through the App Store app.

iCloud Keychain requires OS X 10.9 or above. Check your current version in the About This Mac menu option.

If you're planning on using iCloud Keychain with an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch, you'll also want to make sure they are running the latest version of iOS available. This can be done by launching Settings on the device, tapping General and then Software Update. If an newer version is available, select Install Now to update.

Note that on both OS X and iOS, the only browser that iCloud Keychain will work in is Safari.

Starting iCloud Keychain

Once your Mac is up-to-date, it's time to actually set up the iCloud Keychain. The iCloud Keychain is tied to your Apple ID, so it's a prerequisite that you launch System Preferences, click iCloud and then sign in with your Apple ID credentials, if you haven't done so already.

Next, tick the box next to Keychain. When asked for your Apple ID password, enter it and click OK.

You'll then be asked to create an iCloud Security Code. This is a unique passcode that will be used later to authorise other devices to make use of your saved account and payment information. At this stage, simply enter your chosen four digits and click Next

Alternatively, you can click Advanced to create a longer, more complex passcode or have OS X generate a random one for you. Enter the passcode again when prompted before clicking Next once more.

You can use your own memorable passcode as your iCloud Security Code or instead have OS X generate a random code.

At the next screen, you'll need to enter a phone number capable of receiving SMS text messages. This phone number will be sent a verification code when you need to identify yourself on other devices, so be sure to use a number that you will have easy access to. Select the relevant country code from the list, enter the phone number (minus country code) into the field below and click Done.

The iCloud Keychain will now be activated on the Mac you just used to sign up, ready for saving and syncing your account and payment information across any other devices you activate.

Saving Passwords and Account Information

To begin saving passwords and other account information to your iCloud Keychain, you simply need to sign in as normal to any site that you wish to use with your Keychain. 

Once you log in, Safari will prompt you to add those account credentials to your iCloud Keychain. To do so, click the Save Password button and go about your business on that site as normal. If you don't wish to save your password for that site, but still continue with signing in, click either Not Now or the self-explanatory Never for This Website button.

Saving a password to Keychain is as simple as clicking a button the next time you sign in to that account.

That's it! The account details are now securely stored and will be pushed to any other devices with which you've activated iCloud Keychain. You may even find that some of your accounts will automatically be part of your new Keychain as OS X automatically adds your pre-existing saved passwords to iCloud when you activate iCloud Keychain.

Updating a saved password in Keychain, just sign in with the new credentials and click the Update Password button.

If you ever change your password and sign in to a previously saved account, Safari will prompt you again. To update your password for that site, use Update Password or choose Not Now to keep the currently-saved password.

Saving Credit Card Information

If you regularly use a debit or credit card online, you can also save that to your iCloud Keychain for fast entry into any new websites. Slightly different to the protocol for saving passwords, OS X only submits part of your credit card information to your iCloud Keychain. 

Your card's security code is never stored in iCloud. Only your name, card number and the expiration date of the card is saved so, when needed, you'll still need to manually enter your security code.

iCloud will save all your card information when you ask it to remember except your card's security code. You'll need to enter this manually when it's needed.

Saving debit or credit card information to your iCloud Keychain is done in the same way as passwords. When you use new card information for the first time, Safari will prompt you to save it to your iCloud Keychain. When the prompt appears, click Remember Card to securely save the card information to your keychain or click one of the other options to not do so.

Activating Other Devices

iCloud Keychain is, of course, especially helpful when you want to sync your login or payment information with your other devices. After you've set up your iCloud Keychain, you can activate additional Macs and iOS devices to access and save login and payment information.

Activating Additional Macs

You can activate iCloud Keychain on any Mac running OS X Mavericks or later. To do so, open System Preferences, click iCloud and sign in to your Apple ID if you haven't already. Once you're signed in, tick the box next to Keychain (the same one you ticked during the initial setup). Sign in with your Apple ID when prompted.

Next, you'll be asked to authorise your Mac. If you have another Mac that already has iCloud Keychain turned on and active nearby, click the Request Approval button. A notification will then appear on that machine; click View when it appears.

If you have notifications disabled, you can open the iCloud section in System Preferences to skip this step.

Click the Details button next to the Keychain option. Enter your Apple ID password when prompted and click Allow. The machine will then have iCloud Keychain turned on, allowing it to access and add to your stored login and payment information!

If you don't have another Mac with iCloud Keychain already turned on nearby, you can instead click Use Code after ticking the box next to Keychain in System Preferences. When prompted, enter your iCloud Security Code that you created during the initial setup of your keychain and click Next.

If you don't have another Mac nearby, you can use your phone to receive a unique verification code to activate your Mac.

You'll receive an SMS text message to the phone number specified when you first set up your iCloud keychain. The message will include a six digit verification code that you should enter on your Mac before clicking OK. The Mac will then have iCloud Keychain turned on, just as if you'd approved it through an existing device!

Activating iOS Devices

If you want to use iCloud Keychain with an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch (running iOS 7.0.3 or later), open Settings on the device. Tap iCloud, sign in with your Apple ID, if you haven't already, and then Keychain. Tap the toggle button to turn iCloud Keychain on and enter your Apple ID password when prompted.

Turning on iCloud Keychain on your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch is nearly identical to the process in OS X.

If you have a Mac with iCloud Keychain already turned on nearby, open the System Preferences app and click iCloud. Then, click the Details button next to the Keychain option. Enter your Apple ID password when promoted and click Allow. Your iOS device will then have iCloud keychain turned on!

If you don't have your Mac nearby, tap the Approve with Security Code option on your iOS device. Enter the iCloud Security Code you chose during initial setup and then enter the six digit verification code sent via SMS text message to the phone number also specified during that first setup. Your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch will then have iCloud Keychain turned on and ready for use!

Removing Saved Information From Keychain

In some cases, you may wish to entirely remove saved login or payment information from keychain. This is an easy process and will remove the information from being automatically filled on any activated device.

Removing Passwords

To remove a password, launch the Keychain Access app on the Mac. You can quickly open Keychain Access by typing the app's name into Spotlight or launch it from the Utilities folder inside the main Applications folder.

Keychain Access allows you to quickly delete individual passwords saved to your iCloud Keychain.

Once Keychain Access is open, click iCloud from the list in the left pane. Then, right-click the account, you want to delete from Keychain, in the list and select Delete.

Removing Credit Card Information

To delete payment card information from iCloud Keychain, launch Safari and then open Preferences from the Safari menu in the menu bar. Click the AutoFill tab and then click Edit next to the Credit cards option.

Adding and removing payment card information is managed inside Safari's preferences.

Select the card you want to remove and then click Remove. Your card information will then no longer sync as part of your iCloud Keychain and won't be autofilled in Safari on any of your devices.

Alternatives to iCloud Keychain

iCloud Keychain is not the only solution for saving and syncing your login and payment information. One of the most popular alternatives to iCloud Keychain is 1Password. 

1Password involves setting up and maintaining an additional account with its own non-preinstalled software but does offer a number of additional features. Notably, 1Password's password generator offers more options to configure the complexity of randomly generated passwords, something iCloud Keychain does not. 

1Password also works with Windows and Android devices across multiple browsers, rather than being limited to just Safari as iCloud Keychain is. For more information on 1Password, refer to the In-Depth Look at 1Password 4 tutorial. 

1Password is a popular alternative to iCloud Keychain.

Another alternative to iCloud Keychain is LastPass. Like 1Password, LastPass offers a more complex password generator with additional options and works across more platforms than iCloud Keychain currently supports. 

LastPass also allows you to manage multiple profiles of login information, separating work credentials from your information at home. For more information on how LastPass compares to iCloud Keychain, read AppStorm's LastPass vs. iCloud Keychain article.


iCloud Keychain is a simple way of syncing your login and payment information between your devices. Naturally, using any third-party solution involves installing and managing third-party software in a less out of the box process that differs from iCloud's built-in system. You'll have to make the call of which to use depending on which suits your requirements.

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