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Hidden Mac Gem: Keychain Access

Jason LaRose September 23, 2011 Productivity, Resources

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If you’re reading this article right now, chances are you are technically savvy, plugged in to Web 2.0, own a Mac product and have a lot of online accounts.  So many accounts in fact, that you have a hard time remembering your username, let alone the passwords linked with them.  If you’re anything like me, you’ve tried listing them out in an excel spreadsheet (but that’s not secure).  If someone gets a hold of that file, bye-bye personal information. There are a handful of online services like passpack.com or mitto.com, but what happens if their site goes down or they lose business? There’s also a couple desktop apps, like 1Password or Wallet, but they need to be purchased or (for a minimalist like me) they are too clunky and intrusive to your day-to-day web browsing.

Enter Keychain Access

If you’re a Mac user, you’ve used Keychain Access whether you’re aware of it or not. Keychain Access is what generates the prompt for your administrator password when you attempt to install an app or access a saved password after months of inactivity.

Keychain Access is a default preinstalled Mac app that resides in your Applications > Utilities folder.

After a few months of using this neat little app, I’ve come to realize that it’s the little engine that could. It’s unobtrusive, small, easy to use and—best of all—free. Keychain Access stores your login information in a Key. A Keychain holds a bunch of Keys… “keychain access”… get it?

Using Keychain Access

While you can use Keychain Access to store personal information, you’ll see listed on the left other pre-made keychains. It’s important not to delete those… I’m not about to discover what would happen, and I advise you not to either.

In order to start adding your usernames and passwords, you need to create a keychain, which places an encrypted text file on your computer.

1.Open Keychain Access and go to File > New Keychain
2.Choose a filename and a location to save the keychain file. Click OK.
3. Provide a password… this is the important password and the only one you’ll need to remember.
4. Once you provide a password and click OK, you’ll notice your newly created keychain in the sidebar.

5. You’ll also notice an unlocked icon next to the keychain. That means a password has been supplied to unlock the keychain. But don’t worry, the keychain will lock again after a few minutes.

Creating a new Key

Now its time to add your accounts, locations, usernames and passwords

1. With your new Keychain selected, click the + button at the bottom of the window
2. You’ll be presented with a dialog box, where you’ll need to supply the appropriate information.
3. Click OK. You’ll notice that if you supplied a website link, Internet Password has been applied to Kind as well as a simpler website link for the Name.
4. Once you create the Key, you can double click to view and change its details, as well as providing a little bit more information. Bonus: right click the item, and if it’s an Internet Password, you have the option to click Go There and be taken straight to the login screen.

5. In order to view your password, click Show Password. This will open a dialogue box requiring your Keychain’s password. If you are not logged into the keychain, you will need to provide your password twice… once to unlock the keychain and once to view the password information.

Just repeat the process of adding a new Key for every account you have and you’re done. You can save your accounts information hidden away in a neat little default Mac app for free.

Bonus: Cross-Computer Sync

Because Keychain Access stores a keychain’s information in a file on your hard drive, you have the capability to move your file anywhere you need it. You can even sync your passwords across multiple Macs with the use of Dropbox, which you’ll need at least a free account installed on each Mac.


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