OS X Mavericks preview: iCloud Keychain promises relief from password hell

Few features in OS X Mavericks will fundamentally change your computing experience as much as iCloud Keychain. It promises to fix Web password management once and for all on both Mavericks and iOS 7.

You need secure login credentials to be able to engage in e-commerce and other online activities, but keeping passwords straight can stump even the most advanced computer user. At best, you forget and need to reset your password every time you visit an infrequently-accessed site. At worst, you end up using an insecure password that opens you up to identity theft and other modern problems. Apple's fix for this problem is new in OS X Mavericks, and it's called iCloud Keychain.

iCloud Keychain - post its

"These solutions are not recommended," said Apple senior vice president of Software Engineering Craig Federighi during his keynote presentation at WWDC, showing a slide of an iMac covered in Post-It notes with passwords hand-scrawled on them.

Apple provides a handy and secure way to deal with this problem already, but it's somewhat hidden from view: the Keychain app in the Utilities folder. Keychain, integrated well into the operating system itself, keeps track of credentials like AirPort passwords, root certificates, RSA encryption keys and more. Now Apple's extending the Keychain concept in OS X Mavericks by making it iCloud-based, secure, and best of all, synchronized between your iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks devices.

iCloud Keychain will remember AirPort passwords just like the Keychain app does now, but that only scratches the surface. Web-based passwords are now front and center in iCloud Keychain. Safari will help you generate secure passwords that you don't have to remember - iCloud Keychain fills them in for you whenever they're needed.

iCloud keychain - credit cards

iCloud Keychain also retains credit card information, so you don't have to haul your card out from your wallet (or commit its number to memory) to place an online order anymore. The only piece of information you will have to remember is the security code that's imprinted on the back side of your card.

Web site password utilities are nothing new to OS X - they've been around for years, but they require users to know of their existence. By offering iCloud Keychain as an alternative, Apple is exposing the same kind of technology to everyone who downloads OS X Mavericks when it comes out this fall. It's another way that Apple is trying to keep Mac users safe and secure when they're online, and that's a good thing.

Are you going to use iCloud Keychain when you download Mavericks, or is this more control than you're willing to give the operating system? Do you already use a password manager that you're happy with? Please tell me in the comments! And make sure to check out these links for more information about OS X Mavericks.