Mastering your passwords with Keychain Access
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.
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.
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.