How to Use Apple's iCloud Keychain

The latest update to the Mac OS and iOS included a new feature called “iCloud Keychain.” In a nutshell, Keychain allows you to securely store account information like user IDs and passwords, along with other secure data, such as credit card numbers. On top of that, Keychain integrates seamlessly with Safari and, if you’re trying to come up with a new password, Keychain will automatically suggest a hard-to-crack password for you that it will then save automatically. Best of all, because your secure data is in the cloud, once Keychain is set up, it will automatically sync across all of your Apple devices.If you have one or more Apple devices but you’re not yet using Keychain, here’s how to set it up and get the most out of this latest iCloud feature.

1. The Set-Up Process

Setting up your Keychain on Mac OS X Mavericks or iOS is a very simple process. Most people will have already set up the iCloud Keychain while installing the software update when prompted; however, if you didn’t set up Keychain but want to now, here’s how to do it.For a laptop or desktop computer, go to System Preferences and then choose the iCloud pane. From there, check the box marked “Keychain,” then click “OK.” You will then be asked to enter your Apple ID, and you will be prompted to set up a four-digit security code. If you’re persnickety about securing your data and you want more than four digits to secure your Keychain, click “Advanced…” to see further options. To confirm your four-digit code, you’ll be asked for a phone number and will receive a text message to confirm your changes.Some people don’t set up their Macs to require a password after a period of inactivity. Once you turn on Keychain, though, your computer will give you strong encouragement to do so. Setting up a password to get back into your computer after it’s been idle is the smart thing to do if you’re using Keychain. Think about it: Once you start using Keychain regularly, all of your passwords and much of your other sensitive data will be accessible from your machine. If your laptop gets lost or stolen, all of your sensitive information will be ripe for the picking if you don’t have a password requirement. Therefore, although you can continue to defer this option by choosing “Not Now,” you’ll be much smarter to decide, “Yes, now” when you reach the password prompt.To set up Keychain on an iOS device, go to Settings > iCloud > Keychain. Turn the Keychain on. After that, you’ll be prompted to go through a similar set-up process as that described above.

2. How to Set Up Keychain on Additional Apple Devices

Once your Keychain is enabled on one device, getting your other devices to sync with it is easy. When you go to turn Keychain on, Apple will give you some options for verifying your identity. If you’re using an OS X, you can “Approve from Other Device;” if you’re setting up Keychain on an iOS, you can “Request Approval.” Having chosen this option, you can go to the device where Keychain is already set up and approve the second device to sync with your Keychain from there. On a Mac, you’ll go back into Keychain under System Preferences and approve by clicking the “Details” button. Then you’ll be asked for your password and you can click “Allow.” With iOS, you’ll be asked for your Apple ID, and then you can tap “Allow.”

3. How to Get the Most Out of Keychain on Safari

With Keychain running, you’ll be able to use the AutoFill feature whenever you’re on a site for which you already have account information stored in Keychain. This makes logging in to frequently used sites much faster and easier than it used to be, especially with iOS devices.When you’re creating a new account somewhere, take advantage of Keychain’s “Suggest Password” feature. When you sign up for an account and are entering a new password for the first time, the “Suggest Password” option will automatically appear. On a Mac, this will appear as a drop-down window right below the password field; on an iOS device, it will appear at the bottom of the Safari window.By clicking “Suggest Password,” Keychain will come up with a random combination of letters, numbers, and special characters that are almost impossible to guess. The password is also almost impossible to remember, but Keychain will store that long password in iCloud so that you don’t have to memorize it.You can follow a similar procedure to store credit card information. Within your Safari settings, go to “Passwords & AutoFill” and make sure that the “Credit Cards” is turned on. You can manage your stored credit cards by clicking or tapping “Saved Credit Cards.” From there, you can choose to delete or modify credit card information. Although Keychain will AutoFill your number and expiration date, you’ll have to enter your security code manually. Once you have a credit card stored in Keychain, clicking or tapping a blank credit card field should automatically lead to a list of credit card options you can choose from.

4. Notes of Caution for Keychain

Whenever you store account information or other sensitive data, whether on Keychain or somewhere else, be smart about how you keep the data secure. For starters, don’t use Keychain on a computer that you don’t own, like your Mac at work. Even though no one else at work may be using your computer, if you don’t technically own the computer, it is completely legal for your company to access your computer without your permission. That’s fine if all your boss wants is to access an important file when you’re not at the office, but if you have Keychain synced with your work computer, that means other people at work who can access your computer can also access all your personal data.Keychain also allows you to ignore a website’s recommendation for passwords not to be saved. For example, some sites have their own security measures that prevent you from saving your password in Keychain or a similar automatic password management system. Although Keychain allows you to override this security measure, should you? Use your own discretion, but consider the fact that the website, especially if it’s your bank or another place where your financial information is stored, may have a very good reason for preventing you from using AutoFill.Finally, update your browsers, OS, or iOS whenever you’re prompted to do so. You might find OS updates to be an annoyance; in actuality, most software updates are security patches that clean up loopholes that allow hackers in. Not updating your software, especially if you are using Keychain regularly, is one procrastination you cannot afford.

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