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  1. Computer Skills
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Computers

The Complete Guide to iCloud Keychain

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:
This post is part of a series called OS X Mavericks.
Quick Tip: A Tour of the Notification Center Changes in Mavericks
Master Desktop Images in OS X Mavericks

1Password has always been a great way to manage your digital keys. Now Apple has joined in with password synchronization across devices; one of the headline features of Mavericks is iCloud Keychain. Now, if you ask Safari to remember your password for a website, it will also be autofilled on your iOS devices, and other Macs you use.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to set up iCloud Keychain and use it to help you remember everyday passwords.


What It Does

The introduction of iCloud Keychain at WWDC 2013.
The introduction of iCloud Keychain at WWDC 2013.

iCloud Keychain keeps all your sensitive information synced to Apple’s servers, which use “industry-standard encryption techniques” to stop it from being intercepted by a hacker. This sensitive information includes usernames and passwords, credit card digits, and WiFi network names and passwords. Having all of these across your devices makes it easier to visit your friend’s house and use their WiFi on your iPad, make an order on Amazon.com, and post to your blog. It also syncs your account information, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.


Setting Up iCloud Keychain

Creating a PIN.
Creating a PIN.

Switching on iCloud Keychain only takes a few steps. You must have an iCloud account to use it, not a Google or Yahoo one — these don’t communicate with Apple’s servers. You can create one for free if you haven’t already. Provided these requirements are met, follow these steps to configure iCloud Keychain:

  1. Launch System Preferences and head to the iCloud pane.
  2. Check the box beside Keychain.
  3. Enter your iCloud password and click OK.
  4. You’ll be asked for a four-digit PIN. You can input your own or click the Advanced button and select Get a random security code to have your computer make one for you. You can also opt to Use a complex security code, which can be any length with any characters, just like a password. If you don’t want to put a wall between your sensitive information and malicious individuals, the Don’t create security code option will ask you for permission on one of your other devices. It’s best to use either a simple or complex code rather than risking the loss of all your confidential information.
  5. Click Next. If you used a code, you’ll be asked to confirm it.
  6. Click Next. You’ll be asked to enter a phone number with which you would like to receive SMS alerts. This is part of the two-step authentication process Apple is using and is required for iCloud Keychain. When you set up a new device, you’ll be asked for your security code and the code sent to your mobile number. The phone can be yours or a close friend’s. You cannot change this and there’s not confirmation screen, so make sure it’s the correct number.

Setting Up Additional Devices

If you have more than one device to sync your information to, follow these steps to get them set up.

On an iOS Device

  1. Launch the Settings app and tap iCloud.
  2. Tap Keychain and move the iCloud Keychain slider to the right.
  3. Tap the Approve with Security Code button and enter your code.
  4. Open Safari and make sure your fields are being autofilled. If not, wait a few minutes for things to sync.

On a Mac

Adding a phone number for SMS alerts.
Adding a phone number for SMS alerts.
  1. Open System Preferences and head to the iCloud pane.
  2. Check the box beside Keychain.
  3. Enter your iCloud password and click OK.
  4. Enter your security code.
  5. Check your phone for a verification code, then type it in and click OK.

Managing Your Passwords

I can't show you all my passwords, so we're just going to look at a general screen here.
I can't show you all my passwords, so we're just going to look at a general screen here.

iCloud Keychain only works with Safari. Chrome, Firefox, and other third-party browsers will likely never be supported. If you want to manage the contents of your Keychain, follow these steps:

  1. Launch Safari and open the app’s Preferences (CMD + ,).
  2. For usernames and passwords, select the Passwords tab. For anything else, select the AutoFill tab.
  3. Passwords: Select the usernames and passwords you’d like to delete and click Remove. You can purge the directory using the Remove All button.
  4. AutoFill: click the Edit button beside any of the categories to modify their contents. You can Add or Remove entries in the Credit cards and Other forms categories.

Switching Off iCloud Keychain

The two options when removing Keychain.
The two options when removing Keychain.

Should you decide that iCloud Keychain is not for you, disabling it takes only a few clicks. Beware that you will have two options: remove all the information from your Mac or keep it. If you switch off the service on, say, your iMac, your other devices will still have keychains, they just won’t receive updates from the desktop. All this information will be local-only. Here’s the step-by-step process of disabling iCloud Keychain on Mac.

  1. Open System Preferences and head to the iCloud pane.
  2. Uncheck the box beside Keychain.
  3. You’ll be asked whether or not you would like to keep your saved information on your computer. If you opt to Delete from Mac, the data will no longer be available for autofill purposes. Choosing to Keep on This Mac will allow you to keep using the information when browsing.

Back to Browsing

Yeah, this verification code won't help you.
Yeah, this verification code won't help you.

That’s it! You’re one step closer to synchronizing your digital life. I explained how iCloud Keychain works, how to set it up on however many devices you may have, how to remove it if you don’t trust Apple, and how to manage the contents of your Keychain. If there’s something else you’d like to know, or have a tip, please leave a comment.

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