TweetFollow Us on Twitter

All Keyed Up

Volume Number: 21
Issue Number: 10
Column Tag: Programming

All Keyed Up

Up Close and Personal With the Keychain: A First Look

by Ilene Hoffman

Our Own Little Corner of the Directory

As your car and house keys provide you access to your stuff behind closed doors, so does the keychain in Mac OS X. A keychain is Apple's designation for a file used to store your passwords, i.e. it is a container for changeable data, where you "write" passwords and save them in a secure file format. These are passwords you created to access software, instant message accounts, mail accounts, web sites, remote servers, such as AppleShare servers, database servers plus other types of personal information you don't want to forget. When a keychain is unlocked, you no longer have to remember or even type in a requested password for any item you've stored in a keychain. You can create as many different keychains as you like and can name them to differentiate the content, according to your personal preferences. The items in a keychain are keys that encrypt or decrypt data. Each keychain can hold as many passwords or keys as needed.

Unless you're some flavor of system or network administrator or your significant other has broken into your coveted system, the keychain is of little concern to you - it just works. In fact, the most common question received from my small business clients is: How do I turn off the keychain? Before you jump the gun and disable this too often maligned system utility, let's take a closer look at its use, functions, and benefits. Remember it is the only place Apple gives you to securely store all your private information.

When you start-up and log-in to with your own password Mac OS X your preferences, customized environment and your keychains are loaded. The main or default keychain, named login, is unlocked automatically. If you set up a .Mac email account when you set up your machine, that password is also stored in the login keychain. Any passwords you add to that keychain are available to you when you log in, so you should be careful if you leave your machine unattended in a populated environment. This is because your passwords are available to any stored item. Logging out of your user account locks the keychain or, if you prefer, you can set Automatic Locking, which is discussed below. For enhanced protection you can change your login keychain password, so that it is not unlocked at startup.


Figure 1. Accessing password-protected services using a keychain

(Source: Enabling Secure Storage With Keychain Services, (c) 2004 Apple Computer, Inc., page 10.)

Keychain Access

The application Keychain Access, found inside the Utilities folder inside your Applications folder, is used to add, delete, and edit keys and keychains. You can also create new keychains, change the default keychain, or troubleshoot keychains. When you first open the application, you see your login keychain with a list of all of its stored passwords, a toolbar, and buttons to view each password key's attributes and access control.

When you first launch Keychain Access you see the login keychain with each of the default keys already entered. Any email address you entered when you set up Mac OS X is entered into the login keychain. In Figure 2, you can see an Earthlink address is active. The toolbar contains buttons to add a new Password, create a Note, Delete a key, Go to a web site, and Lock (or Unlock) the whole Keychain. Click Show Keychains to open a drawer to view all your keychains. The drawer has a nice feature where, if you can run your mouse over the name and location, the path to the keychain appears.


Figure 2. Keychain Acess Window

Each key includes a name , the kind of password, and its creation and modification date in a list view, as seen in Figure 2. When you choose an item (click once) the Delete button activates, so removing a key is easy. A dialog appears with a Delete button to confirm the action. Any item that contains the @ sign signifies that a web-related application is opened when you select the key and press the Go button. Applications include web browsers, email, and ftp applications.

Use the Attributes and Access Control buttons to view more information or edit a key. As seen in Figure 3 below, under the Attributes button you can change or edit any of the items, although some items add information automatically which is useful, such as the Comments for Safari's Forms Autofill utility. Generally, editing these items is not encouraged. A checkbox to Show Password is helpful, but leaving it unchecked is recommended. If you prefer to paste in your password manually, click the Copy Password to Clipboard button. If you do change any information, don't forget to Save Changes. The Comments area is especially useful as it allows you want to make notes on an account.


Figure 3. Attributes in Keychain Acess Window

Access Control is one of the areas that allow you control over when you are prompted for your password(s). As I tell my clients, if you don't want to be bothered with password dialogs, check Access Control to make sure the radio button Allow all applications to access this item is selected. If you want a more secure system, select Confirm before allowing access, so that applications will request your input, and, for an additional layer of security, add the checkbox Ask for Keychain password. You can also use the`Add button and exempt some applications from requesting a password. When you change the permissions for any item, you must Confirm Access to Keychain and type in your Keychain password. Figure 4 shows a Safari Forms AutoFill key that requires a confirmation before any application other than Safari can access the stored information. Remember that the Finder is just another application in Mac OS X.


Figure 4. Access Control in Keychain Acess Window

Create and Use New Keychains

If you think about it, it makes more sense in an environment where a lot of other people are running around to have at least one other keychain that isn't opened automatically when you boot up. So, just how do you create those secondary keychains? Keychain Access, of course! The steps are simply: Launch Keychain Access, choose New Keychain from the File menu, name the keychain, choose where to save it, and click Create. You will be asked to enter and verify a password for that new keychain. If you don't specify saving the keychain in another location, it is stored by default as the follows: (~/Library/Keychains). After you click Create you choose a password for the keychain and that's it, or is it?

Hidden Cool Resources

There are some very useful resources tucked away behind some innocuous buttons in the New Keychain Password dialog. The blue Details button shows information on the location of your new keychain, plus the application associated with it (in this case, Keychain Access.app). Details appear in a number of the dialogs in Keychain Access. The question mark button in the Password dialog takes you to a Mac Help screen on how to choose good passwords.


Figure 5. The New Keychain Password Dialog with the Open Password Assistant

An even better resource is the Password Assistant. Click on the i button and the Assistant rates the quality of your password. In Figure 5, you can see that when I type my own name as the password it returns a low quality(6.5) because the password is not only too short, but very easy to guess. In fact, because it is under six characters , Mac OS X won't let me use my name as the password. When you've chosen a good password, the quality rating goes as high as 10% and the bar turns from red to green. As one network administrator friend of mine commented upon first seeing this help screen: "Wow, this is really helpful."

Multiple Keychains

To view all your keychains you can either select Show Keychains from the toolbar, which opens a Keychain drawer, or choose Show Keychains from the View menu, the keyboard short cut is command-shift- K.

You can also add a previously created keychain to your keychain list, even if the keychain was created on a different machine. To do this first move the keychain file to your computer and store it in your home directory ( ~/Library/Keychains). Second, open Keychain Access and choose Add Keychain... from the File menu. In the Open dialog navigate to the desired keychain and click Open. The keychain is now listed in the Keychain list.

Securing the Secure: Keychain Security

To help secure your machine, you can set each keychain lock preference separately. As noted above this helps protect prying eyes from accessing your information by mistake. You can lock your keychain manually, set it to lock after a specified amount of time or require applications to request access, as stated above. To make changes open Keychain Access, click on the keychain you want to change in the Keychains drawer, and choose Change Settings for Keychain from the Edit menu. The prompt to unlock your keychain appears, and after you type your password, the Change Keychain Settings dialog comes up.


Figure 6. Change Keychain Settings

As can be seen in Figure 6, check boxes make setting locking preferences easy. You can set a keychain to lock after any number of idle minutes and/ or you can Lock a keychain when your machine goes to sleep.

Remember that you can also change settings for a specific key in the Access Control pane, as detailed in the Keychain Access section above.

NOTE: If you find you need to access your keychains often, you can display an icon in your menu bar to open Keychain Access and have immediate access to work with your keys. In Keychain Access, choose Show Status in Menu Bar from the View menu, and a lock icon appears in your menu bar.

Adding New Keys

You can add keys in one of two ways:

1. When you launch a password protected item, such as your FTP site from an FTP app such as Fetch, Transit, Anarchie, you may be prompted to save your password in a keychain. A checkbox labeled: Add to Keychain is built into some applications. Click the box and your key is automatically added to your login.keychain. (Note: An incorrect item can be added, so please check your Keychain if you press the OK button and discover that you've made a mistake.) Whether a password can be added from an open dialog is totally up to the program's developer. As you can see in Figure 7, AOL Instant Messenger prompts you to save your password in a keychain, as does iChat.


Figure 7. AOL Dialog within iChat with Keychain Access Checkbox

2. The second way to add a key is to open Keychain Access and click the Password button. The New Password Item dialog appears and you can manually type in all the information to access any password-protected account you own, as you can see in Figure8. A side note to info I find useful: These passwords do not have to be computer related, you can save bank account information, your bike lock, or your account and PIN numbers for all those credit cards you own. Remember, when you click the Show Typing checkbox you can see your actual password. When an application or item is not supported by Keychain Access, these password items work perfectly as a repository to save secret items. Again, it is a good idea to save these items in a keychain other than the login.keychain (it works better and is more secure than having sticky notes stuck all over your computer). Just remember to click on the keychain you'd like to use before you create your new key.


Figure 8. New Password Dialog

Keychain Repair: First Aid

If you find things aren't working as expected, Keychain First Aid, available from the Window menu of Keychain Access, helps you troubleshoot your keychain problems. The main window contains three useful buttons, Verify checks passwords, settings, and the contents of your keychains. The Repair radio button fixes any problems found in your keychains. The third Options button contains settings.


Figure 9. Keychain First Aid

Under the General Options you can clear previous logs created when you run Verify and Repair. In the unlikely event you've experienced keychain corruption, you can also Reset your selected keychain so that you can start over again. As stated in the dialog, your original keychain is moved, but not deleted.

The Expert Options allows you to set your login.keychain as the default and synchronize it when logging in. Best of all, for all those users who complain about the constant user password prompts, you can set your login keychain to remain unlocked, always!

Conclusion

As you've seen, Keychain Access is designed to protect your personal information, while providing you easy access to password protected items. Apple's Keychain Access Help is comprehensive and should be the first line place you turn when you have a question. If you want more technical information on security in Mac OS X or keychains, Apple's site has a number of informative documents:

Developer Resources


Ilene Hoffman, MS is a Macintosh/ Internet Consultant. She stole her first Mac from her Dad in 1984 after asking him to buy a PC. She's worked for a bunch of major Mac sites, written for many Mac-based publications, and regularly provides troubleshooting expertise to small businesses. Ilene and her dog can be found in the Boston area under a pile of really old Macs.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

The beginner's guide to Warbits
Warbits is a turn-based strategy that's clearly inspired by Nintendo's Advance Wars series. Since turn-based strategy games can be kind of tricky to dive into, see below for a few tips to help you in the beginning. Positioning is crucial [Read... | Read more »
How to upgrade your character in Spellsp...
So you’ve mastered the basics of Spellspire. By which I mean you’ve realised it’s all about spelling things in a spire. What next? Well you’re going to need to figure out how to toughen up your character. It’s all well and good being able to spell... | Read more »
5 slither.io mash-ups we'd love to...
If there's one thing that slither.io has proved, it's that the addictive gameplay of Agar.io can be transplanted onto basically anything and it will still be good fun. It wouldn't be surprising if we saw other developers jumping on the bandwagon,... | Read more »
How to navigate the terrain in Sky Charm...
Sky Charms is a whimsical match-'em up adventure that uses creative level design to really ramp up the difficulty. [Read more] | Read more »
Victorious Knight (Games)
Victorious Knight 1.3 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.3 (iTunes) Description: New challenges awaits you! Experience fresh RPG experience with a unique combat mechanic, packed with high quality 3D... | Read more »
Agent Gumball - Roguelike Spy Game (Gam...
Agent Gumball - Roguelike Spy Game 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Someone’s been spying on Gumball. What the what?! Two can play at that game! GO UNDERCOVERSneak past enemy... | Read more »
Runaway Toad (Games)
Runaway Toad 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: It ain’t easy bein’ green! Tap, hold, and swipe to help Toad hop to safety in this gorgeous new action game from the creators of... | Read more »
PsyCard (Games)
PsyCard 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: From the makers och Card City Nights, Progress To 100 and Ittle Dew PSYCARD is a minesweeper-like game set in a cozy cyberpunk... | Read more »
Sago Mini Robot Party (Education)
Sago Mini Robot Party 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Education Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: -- Children's Technology Review Editor's Choice -- | Read more »
Egz – The Origin of the Universe (Games...
Egz – The Origin of the Universe 1.0.2 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0.2 (iTunes) Description: ►►► Special offer until 2nd may : get the game at 2.99€ instead of 3.99€ ! ◄◄◄ Egz is a mesmerizing mix... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple restocks Certified Refurbished Mac mini...
Apple has restocked Certified Refurbished 2014 Mac minis, with models available starting at $419. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each mini, and shipping is free: - 1.4GHz Mac mini: $419 $... Read more
15-inch 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for...
Amazon.com has the 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1699.99 including free shipping. Their price is $300 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model from any reseller (and... Read more
Apple Beats Microsoft at Own Game; Amazon Pri...
First quarter seasonality combined with an overall disinterested customer base led to an annual decline of 14.7% in worldwide tablet shipments during the first quarter of 2016 (1Q16). Worldwide... Read more
Tablets Had Worst Quarter Since 2012, says St...
The global tablet market began 2016 just as 2015 left off, down. Tablet shipments fell 10% to 46.5 million units during the Q1 2016, according to the new “Preliminary Global Tablet Shipments and... Read more
Clearance 13-inch MacBook Airs, Apple refurbi...
Apple recently dropped prices on certified refurbished 2015 13″ MacBook Airs with 4GB of RAM with models now available starting at $759. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each MacBook, and... Read more
Clearance 12-inch Retina MacBooks, Apple refu...
Apple has dropped prices on Certified Refurbished 2015 12″ Retina MacBooks with models now available starting at $929. Apple will include a standard one-year warranty with each MacBook, and shipping... Read more
Aleratec Releases Mac Software Upgrade for 1...
California based Aleratec Inc., designer, developer and manufacturer of Portable Device Management (PDM) charge/sync products for mobile devices and professional-grade duplicators for hard disk... Read more
Sale! Amazon offers 27-inch iMac, 13-inch 2.9...
Amazon has the 27″ 3.2GHz 5K iMac and the 13″ 3.9GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $300 off MSRP, each including free shipping, for a limited time: - 27″ 3.2GHz/1TB HD 5K iMac (model MK462LL/A): $... Read more
Apple refurbished 13-inch Retina MacBook Pros...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 13″ Retina MacBook Pros available for up to $270 off the cost of new models. An Apple one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free: - 13″ 2.7GHz... Read more
13-inch 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro on sa...
Take $200 off MSRP on the price of a new 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro (model MF839LL/A) at Amazon. Shipping is free: - 13″ 2.7GHz/128GB Retina MacBook Pro: $1099.99 $200 off MSRP Act now if... Read more

Jobs Board

Restaurant Manager (Neighborhood Captain) - A...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
Automotive Sales Consultant - Apple Ford Linc...
…you. The best candidates are smart, technologically savvy and are customer focused. Apple Ford Lincoln Apple Valley is different, because: $30,000 annual salary Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions - Apple,...
Job Description: Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant - Apple (United...
# Apple Solutions Consultant Job Number: 48260200 Phoenix, Arizona, United States Posted: Apr. 22, 2016 Weekly Hours: 40.00 **Job Summary** As an Apple Solutions Read more
Restaurant Manager (Neighborhood Captain) - A...
…in every aspect of daily operation. WHY YOU'LL LIKE IT: You'll be the Big Apple . You'll solve problems. You'll get to show your ability to handle the stress and Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.