I have been doing more onsite installations and lessons down here in Key West. So many times as I start to help a customer we run into the password roadblock. I was at a customer’s home yesterday and needed to set up her email and iCloud account. I asked for the administrator password for her Mac and she went to a little pile of sticky notes and tried to find the right one and the scene was repeated for each password we needed. I then proceeded to show her Keychain Access and I could see the light bulb hovering above her head as she understood the value of this app from Apple.
Mac OS X supports what are known as keychains: secure storage lockers for certificates, passwords, or any small bits of information to be kept private. The primary purpose of a keychain is to remember passwords for various applications and accounts such as mail and ftp servers, web sites, or encrypted disk images. The basic idea is that a single password, the keychain password, is used to unlock access to all passwords stored in that keychain.
I keep Keychain Access in my dock and use it all the time to find passwords, banking information, or secure notes. To find Keychain Access you follow this path: Finder > Applications > Utilities > Keychain Access. I do recommend that once you find it that you drag it to your dock, because once you start using it, you will wonder how you ever lived without it.
With the advent of iCloud and OS X 10.9 Mavericks, Apple made Keychain even more valuable as iCloud Keychain lets you share your Keychain in the iCloud so you can access it from all of your devices. I wish there was an app like Keychain Access on your iOS devices but still, it is awful handy to have your device automatically remember your password for websites, etc.
When you launch Keychain Access you will see that the window is divided into three panes. The top-left pane lists keychains accessible to you. Below this is the Category pane. Here you can choose to view specific kinds of things stored in the keychain: passwords, secure notes, certificates associated with your account, encryption keys, and certificates used by your Mac. The largest pane, to the right, displays the contents of selected category items—for example, all of the items that have a password associated with them. Except in the case of certificates, you can double-click on one of these items to open a window where you can view the item’s attributes: name, kind, associated account, location (a website or network address), as well as its access control.
Keychain Access can do a lot of useful things. For example, if you’ve forgotten a password and would like to recover it, Keychain Access is the place to go. To learn the identity of a password, select All Items or Passwords in the Category pane, then find the the item you want the password for and double-click it. In the resulting window, enable the Show Password option. You will be prompted for the password for the login keychain which is either your login password or the administrator password (which will be the same if you are an admin user on your machine). Enter that and click Allow, and the password will be revealed in the Password field.
I have just scratched the surface of this great utility, perhaps we will go into some more technical detail in our sister eNewsletter, Tech Tails or in a future issue of Kibbles & Bytes. But if you are not using Keychain to its full potential, I suggest dragging it to your dock and checking it out!