How to Use iCloud Keychain, Apple’s Hidden Password Manager

Tips • Sept. 11, 2023

iCloud Keychain

Your iPhone, iPad, and Mac come equipped with a discreet yet powerful tool known as iCloud Keychain — a built-in password manager from Apple. In this guide, we’ll walk you through harnessing its capabilities, setting up two-factor authentication, and liberating you from the burden of memorizing passwords.

What’s iCloud Keychain

iCloud Keychain, Apple’s password management solution, empowers users to generate, store, and synchronize passwords across all Apple devices, including iPhone, iPad, and Mac. This secure and user-friendly tool streamlines the management of passwords, credit card details, and sensitive information.

sync password

Getting started with iCloud Keychain

To embark on your iCloud Keychain journey, ensure that you’re signed in to iCloud on all your Apple devices, and follow these steps:

  1. On your iPhone or iPad, navigate to Settings > (your name) > iCloud > Keychain, and enable iCloud Keychain.
  2. If prompted, create a four-digit passcode or employ Touch ID or Face ID for identity verification.
  3. Next, set up a Security Code. This code safeguards your stored passwords on new devices. Opt for a memorable code, comprising at least 6 digits.
  4. If you already have passwords saved in Safari, you’ll be prompted to add them to iCloud Keychain. Select ‘Yes’ to transfer your passwords.

Managing passwords and login data

Apple’s password manager integrates seamlessly across iOS (or iPadOS) and macOS, enabling you to generate and access passwords within Safari and third-party apps. You can also manually add, modify, or delete login credentials.

The simplest method for adding passwords to iCloud Keychain is to use your devices regularly and save passwords as prompted. When signing in to an online account via Safari or any app on your iPhone or iPad, you’ll typically receive a pop-up asking if you want to save the password to your iCloud Keychain for AutoFill. This straightforward process involves clicking ‘Save Password,’ and your username and password will be stored. On iOS, you can access your passwords by tapping the “Passwords” (key) icon or selecting suggestions in the QuickType box above the keyboard.

For new accounts, iCloud Keychain can automatically save your credentials when you choose the “Create Strong Password” option, generating and storing a password for you. Alternatively, you can hit “Other Options…” to edit, enhance security, or input your own password.

strong password

Browsing and editing your passwords

Wondering where your passwords are stored? Navigate back to ‘Passwords’ in System Settings, where you’ll find a list of all your saved passwords.

At the top of the list, you’ll find a Security Recommendations feature, which cross-checks your saved passwords against known compromised accounts, helping you identify passwords that require changing.

Below the list, a search bar facilitates quick account retrieval. Opening an account reveals its username, password, and associated URLs. Additionally, you can add notes to any account for reference.

Two-factor authentication made simple

iCloud Keychain can function as an authenticator app, simplifying the autofill of one-time login codes for websites demanding two-factor authentication. To set this up, return to your password list in the System Settings app, open any account, and locate the ‘Set Up Verification Code’ field.

verification code

Tapping this field initiates the setup of two-factor authentication for the application. The specific steps may vary depending on the service, usually located in the settings of the relevant app or website. You’ll either scan a QR code or copy a lengthy code.

Once configured, your Apple device will automatically supply verification codes each time you log in to the service on any of your devices, offering a quicker and more secure alternative to SMS codes or third-party apps like Authy or Google Authenticator.

Importing and exporting passwords

If you already use a different password manager, you can import your passwords to iCloud Keychain. To do so, return to ‘Passwords’ in the settings app and select the three-dot button above your password list. You’ll find the ‘Import passwords’ option here, but remember to export your passwords to a CSV file before proceeding.

Conversely, you can export your Apple passwords to a CSV file from this menu, allowing you to migrate them to other password managers if needed. While third-party password managers like Bitwarden (free and open source) or 1Password (powerful, but not free) offer more features, most Apple users will find iCloud Passwords covers their needs, even if it’s somewhat hidden.

Sharing passwords securely via AirDrop

For secure password sharing, access the desired password on an iPhone, iPad, or Mac, and use the “Share” button to display nearby devices. Selecting a recipient will prompt them to accept the password, adding it to their iCloud Passwords database.

Bear in mind that this method is limited to Apple devices in close proximity. While you can share passwords individually, doing so independently poses a security risk.

Choosing the right password manager

If you’re deeply embedded in the Apple ecosystem, utilizing an iPhone, iPad, and Mac, iCloud Passwords offers an excellent solution for safeguarding your accounts. With the ability to generate secure, one-time passwords, you’ll never need to remember multiple passwords again. Additionally, Shortcuts and Siri streamline manual password retrieval and sharing.

However, if you seek advanced features, third-party password managers may provide a more comprehensive solution.