iCloud Keychain is a great solution for syncing your passwords: it’s built into every Mac and iOS device, it works over iCloud, and it’s free. But although it takes care of most basic password-storage needs, some folks will want a tool with more features or which allows use on non-Apple platforms.
Enter password managers. Several excellent third-party apps and services let you store passwords and other secure information for all of your accounts. Among the best is 1Password from Agile Bits, which is available for OS X from the developers’ site or the Mac App Store, and on iOS from the App Store as a free download, though certain advanced features require an in-app purchase. You can use 1Password on just the Mac or just on iOS, but being able to sync data increases its usefulness exponentially.
We’ve used 1Password for years, before Apple implemented iCloud Keychain, so we have a lot of passwords and other information already stored. However, we don’t ignore iCloud Keychain—it’s better to have two secure options for important data than just one. Also, 1Password includes a few features iCloud Keychain doesn’t.
In the Vault
1Password operates on the conceit of secure vaults (4.26). You create a vault, secured with a single master password, in which you store all your credentials for Web sites, account logins, credit cards, software licenses, and more. That way, the only thing you have to remember is the master password.
4.26 1Password on the Mac
When you open the app, you’re prompted to create your first secure vault and specify a master password (4.27). Obviously, you’ll want this master password to be especially memorable and secure, since it’s the one password you’ll want to remember. (And remember to make it distinct from your OS X account password, because reusing the same password is a no-no.)
4.27 Creating a new 1Password vault
Once you’ve created your vault, start adding items. By default, 1Password offers a handful of common categories, including logins, secure notes, credit cards, and identities. Each of these comes preset with a number of fields tuned for that category of item. But if you tap or click the plus button to add a new item, you’ll see a bunch of additional options, everything from your social security number to your outdoor license (4.28).
4.28 The types of data 1Password already has templates for
All of these items are fully searchable from within 1Password—except for the password field—just in case you remember, say, a URL, but not the name of the site. You can also organize your items into folders or tag them if you prefer, as well as mark the items that you find yourself frequently referring to as favorites.
On the Mac, 1Password even supports Smart Folders, letting you dynamically select items based on criteria that you specify—so, for example, if you want to see all the Web site passwords that haven’t been updated in a year.
Though, honestly, you don’t even have to go to that much trouble, because 1Password for OS X also has a Security Audit feature (4.29). This collects a variety of Smart Folders that not only let you quickly filter for passwords based on age, but also identify weak and duplicate passwords. And the Watchtower feature alerts you to sites on which your password may have been compromised, based on the latest information about security breaches.
4.29 1Password Security Audit
You’ll probably spend most of your time using 1Password when you’re in your Web browser of choice. The good news, then, is that it’s extremely easy to use in conjunction with your browser: On OS X, the app includes extensions for both Chrome and Safari, each of which lets you summon the app with a user-defined keystroke. Once you’ve entered your master password, the 1Password extension automatically fills in the username and password for the site you’re viewing (4.30).
4.30 Accessing 1Password within Safari on OS X
When you create a new account on a Web site, 1Password on the Mac prompts you to add it to your records so you don’t forget. And since you’re entrusting all your passwords to your vault, 1Password includes a built-in password generator that helps you make complex, secure passwords. If you prefer, you can also access many of these features through 1Password mini, which lives in your Mac’s menu bar (4.31).
4.31 Generating a secure password in 1Password Mini
On the iOS side, you have multiple options. For one, the 1Password app includes its own secure browser, which provides integration with your database of passwords. Just tap the globe icon to access the browser (4.32). When you reach a username and password field, tap the key icon in the toolbar to bring up your password information for that site, along with options for filling in credit cards or personal information.
4.32 1Password’s built-in secure browser on iOS
In iOS 8, however, the addition of extensions means that you can actually access 1Password from other apps, including Safari. Just bring up the Share menu and tap the 1Password option in the Action menu (4.33). If a password is stored for that particular account, tap it to log yourself in, all without ever leaving the app.
4.33 1Password logins in Safari for iOS
The real benefit to a password manager, of course, is having all your passwords available at any time. 1Password allows you to sync information to all your devices, whether they’re running iOS or OS X—or even, gasp, Windows and Android.
1Password provides four different methods of syncing your vault, depending on exactly how you use the app. Choose the one you want in 1Password’s in-app Settings > Sync > Sync Service section if on iOS (4.34), or the Sync section of 1Password’s Preferences if you’re on a Mac (4.35).
4.34 Configuring Dropbox sync in iOS
4.35 Configuring Dropbox sync in Yosemite
If you’re using only devices in Apple’s ecosystem, iCloud syncing is easy to set up: Just select it as the service of choice on all your devices, and you’re all set.
The second, and most broadly supported, option is Dropbox, which works with not only OS X and iOS, but also Windows, Windows Phone, and Android devices. You’ll need to point the apps toward your vault in Dropbox, but once you’ve done that, it should sync just fine.
If you want to sync 1Password on your Mac with the iOS client, and you feel a bit wary about letting your information travel through a cloud storage service (even though the data is encrypted), you can opt to sync the two directly via Wi-Fi. Your devices, of course, have to be on the same Wi-Fi network, and you need to manually start the sync.
Finally, if you want to sync 1Password only via multiple computers, not via mobile devices, you can select any folder on your computer in which to store your vault; that folder can then be synced with any cloud storage service, not just Dropbox.
One handy feature of 1Password is support for multiple vaults. If you have more than one person sharing a computer (and they don’t have their own user accounts), you can give each user their own vault, secured by their own master password; alternatively, if you want to separate secure information from, say, your work and your personal logins and passwords, you can create separate vaults and toggle between them.
Vaults can be synced independently, so, for example, if you find yourself doing tech support for certain members of your family—and you can convince them to use 1Password—you could set up a vault that you both have access to, making it easier to troubleshoot their problems when they arise. New vaults can be created only on OS X—but they can then be synced to 1Password on iOS. Here’s how to set one up:
- On the Mac, go to the 1Password menu and choose New Vault.
- Specify a name for the vault, and pick an accent color to make it easy to distinguish.
Enter a master password to open the vault, which will be used by you and the other person (4.36).
4.36 Creating a new shared vault
- Click Create New Vault.
- Go to 1Password > Preferences and click the Sync button.
- Choose a sync method. iCloud can be used only for your Primary vault, so click Dropbox and choose a Dropbox folder to store the vault file. (The Dropbox folder needs to be one that you share with the other person; you can set up sharing after you finish creating the 1Password vault.) If the other person’s computer is on your home network and they don’t need mobile syncing, choose the Folder option.
- Click the Create New button to finish setting up the vault.
To add the shared vault to an iOS device (yours and the other person’s), do this:
- Go to Settings > Vaults and tap Add Vault.
- Tap the Sync with Dropbox button. 1Password connects to your Dropbox account—you may have to grant it access.
- Tap the name of your Dropbox account. 1Password scans the entire folder to locate any vaults.
- In the list of saved vaults, tap the one you created in the previous steps.
- Enter the vault’s master password.
To switch between vaults in the 1Password app, go to Settings > Vaults and choose the one you want. On the Mac, choose a vault from the dropdown above the category list.