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Mastering your passwords with Keychain Access

Posted in: Mac OS X, Non Stop Mac, Security, Software, Tips & Tricks

While you're working in your Mac OS X environment, often you need to make an operation that requires a password (access e-mail, a password protected website, etc.) or you need administrator access to perform a certain task. As you use more services and access more systems, over time this entails the input of a multitude of passwords during your daily work.


One of the beauties that comes with Mac OS X is the Keychain that helps you manage your authorization needs as it acts as a depository of passwords. By using the Keychain you don't need to remember a myriad of passwords but rather just the Keychain password. Don't worry about losing your passwords either, since the Keychain can be backed up with ease.

All the information stored in the keychain is encrypted with the Triple Digital Encryption Standard (3DES).

Launch the application

The Keychain Access application can be found in Applications > Utilities > Keychain Access. Once you open it you'll realize just how much Apple makes things easy to understand in all of its software. The interface is very intuitive and you'll be working in it in no time. It will remind you of iTunes.

Managing several keychains

When in the Keychain Access program, you can manage more then one keychain. The default keychain named login is automatically unlocked every time you login into your account. By setting up more keychains you increase the security of your OS. This is especially useful if you use your Mac OS X on a laptop and it can be lost or stolen. In case you didn't shut it down but carry it around in Sleep mode with no password set to be entered on return from Sleep mode, you can basically give access to all the passwords that are associated with your account to a stranger. With multiple keychains your data is more secure as another password is needed to access that information.

Creating additional keychains is very simple, just go to the menu and use the File > New Keychain option and give it a new name. Keep in mind that you are as strong as your weakest link so when prompted to enter a password click on the little lock located at the end of the password field to launch Password Assistant to help you in the process.

Once this process is over, the keychain appears in the list and you're ready to start inserting information.

Adding passwords to the Keychain

This is what it's all about - adding and modifying passwords. It's very straightforward, just go to the menu and select File > New Password Item. A dialog appears in which you have to type the Keychain item name, the account name and the password you want to store.

If you're in a secure location where there's no one looking over your shoulder I suggest using the "Show Typing" option below the password field. It's one more way to be sure that what you're typing is correct. Once again, the little lock icon that launches the Password Assistant is present, use it often as it makes good passwords.

Modify Keychain settings

In order to increase your security you can choose to change some settings of your Keychain. You can choose to have it locked automatically after a certain period of time and also lock it automatically while in Sleep mode. If you're a user of the .Mac service you can have it synchronize with your .Mac account which is a great backup option.

Show status in menu bar

When you start integrating the Keychain into your daily work you'll want quicker access to the application. By going to the Keychain Access menu and selecting Preferences a dialog appears in which you can select to have the application show its status in the menu bar.

Once activated, the lock icon will be handy for all actions you want to take.

Secure notes

One more feature of the Keychain is the ability to store secure notes. This way you can write down important stuff that you want to keep private without having to use additional encryption software. Naturally, this is not intended for very large text files but useful nonetheless.

Creating notes is straightforward and it's done by using the File > New Secure Note option. You are greeted with a dialog where you input the name of the secure note and the text. After you're done writing you save the note and that's it. Pretty handy feature that keeps written data private without the need of additional software.

Final thoughts

With problems like identity theft becoming more dangerous, using an application like Keychain Access to add an additional layer of security to your computing experience is certainly a good idea. It will not only speed-up your work with passwords but also ensure your data stays private.


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Comments

Better use keepass for Win, Linux and Mac
http://keepass.sourceforge.net/

For my part, I've used ciphsafe for years. Also a good option.

http://www.versiontracker.com/dyn/moreinfo/macosx/17864

I enjoy "Wallet" on Mac OS X for storing websites, credit card numbers, random notes, and other items securely.

I use Pastor. Also a good working app.

Quick question: In the Change Keychain Settings I unchecked the 2 blue boxes yet everytime I restart they are checked again. Any idea why? I am just tired of putting my password in every time I restart. Thanks.

Quick answer: run Keychain First Aid, located under the Keychain Access menu. If your settings aren't remembered then there might be a problem with that keychain.

Great answer! It's naturally something that shouldn't happen.

Ah, Keychain First Aid! Great, that just solved my dodgy keychain issue too! :)

I'll cast another vote for keepass. Great cross-platform tool that someone has done a good job porting to Mac. A binary install version is expected soon.

When I go to open Keychain Access, the icon bounces twice in the doc, and then it disappears. I can't open the program! Any ideas?

What version of OS X are you running? Do you have admin privleges on your machine?

Keepass looks good and I am sure that it works great. However, it is not a OS X native application and looks to need to be a super geek to get it on your machine. I am an application developer and the install on OS X is way too complicated for the average user.

Certificate Assistant that can be launched from "Keychain Access" in the menu is also very handy. It lets you create your own self-signed root certificate (that can be used by Mail.app) and even create your own Certificate Authority.

Keychain has a major advantage over other password storage applications in that it allows many programs to store and automatically retrieve passwords on their own (with the user's one-time approval per program.) Such as Safari, Camino, Eudora, Entourage, Mail and so on...

Thats great, only keychain is really buggy when working with proxies in 10.4.+. For instance, it doesnt remeber your proxy name and password for RSS feeds, it asks mulitple times for your password when updating podcasts (4x per) and you can forget about getting into the music store.

None of these problems are in 10.3.+, just 10.4.

Even tried using Authoxy to no avail.

I can't find the keychain access utility. Under applications --> utlities there is no such thing. I don't understand! I can't delete the stupid keychain if I can't even find/open the keychain program. ARG.

When I search my computer the only keychain file it finds is under computer --> library --> keychains --> system.keychain. Doesn't gier come with this program? What is going on? Please help!

Try open -a 'Keychain Access' in Terminal.app!

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