Handle passwords with Keychain

Aug 2012

I considered 1password, but playing with Keychain, which ships with OS X, I found out it does all I need from a password manager. No need for any browser extensions or app store purchases. It’s all built in to OS X. Simply understanding how “Save Password” works in the browser is enough to solve the problem.

Safari and Chrome both save and fetch passwords from Keychain. You want to have the encrypted keychain which you’ll store all your passwords in backed up. I store it in my Dropbox. You can find the default keychain at ~/Library/Keychains/login.keychain. Once you’ve moved it to your Dropbox, open Keychain Access and add it from the file menu. Most of your passwords will already be in there. That’s fine.

You might also want to change the password to the keychain. By default the password to the login keychain is your user login. You change it by right clicking it in the left-hand pane.

Whenever I create a new account, or change a password, I come up with a random password myself and put it in my clipboard. Paste it when signing up, and when signing in. On sign in I allow Safari/Chrome to remember my password, which means it stores the password in Keychain.

If you ever need the password outside your OS X browser, for instance to sign in to Twitter on your phone, you can copy the password to the clipboard from Keychain:

Once a password is in Keychain it will auto-fill in your browser, regardless of how you add it, as long as the “where” attribute is the same as the page you are currently on:

Since there’s no magic in adding keys, you can just as well add them from the command line or in the Keychain app, as long as the “where” attribute (as shown on the picture above) is right.

security also allows you to easily add new passwords with the add-internet-password command:

    security add-internet-password -a "John Doe" -s foo.com -w pass 

Furthermore, passwords in Keychain can be accessed via security on the command line:

    security 2>&1 >/dev/null find-internet-password -gs www.google.com | grep -o \
      '".*"' | sed 's/"//g'

It will prompt me for the password to the keychain, then output the decrypted password. This is handy for various packages that require passwords.

Keychain2go exists if you want to bring it to your iPhone.

You can also add encrypted notes to your keychain, these can be used for credit card numbers, images, bank account information, secret documents etc.