Keychain Access: Wi-Fi Passwords & Holiday Sanity

Let’s be fair, here—a lot of people don’t know what their Wi-Fi passwords are through no fault of their own. Maybe your relative had the Comcast guy set it up or asked a neighbor kid to do it. Or perhaps your dad wrote it down somewhere, and it’s been lost in the sea of paperwork that engulfs his office. In any case, after you offer to buy 1Password for them all, you can help them figure out what those passwords are and brighten your own Internet situation to boot. And isn’t that what the holidays are all about?

So ask your relative first if you can mess around with her machine. You’ll need her admin password to gain access to all of her other passwords, so I hope you’re a trustworthy individual. Start your sleuthing on that computer by opening Keychain Access, a program that lives in the Applications > Utilities folder. If you type “key” into Spotlight, you’ll find it easily.

Keychain Access is Mac OS X’s way of storing passwords so that you don’t have to enter them every time you need to sign on to something. For example, it’s why your Mac syncs with iCloud seamlessly—your password for that is kept in your keychain and provided automatically when it’s needed. It’d be a gigantic pain in some sensitive places to have to enter that information with every sync, wouldn’t it?

Once the program opens, you can type the name of the network you need the password for into the search bar at the upper-right of the window to find it quickly.

If you don’t know the network name, do a little more digging. You can just click on the Wi-Fi icon in the computer’s menu bar to see what network the machine you’re on is connected to.

None of us are particularly creative, except for the Skynet dude.


If you prefer, you can click on the “Kind” column in Keychain Access to sort by that. You’re looking for the “Airport Network Password” kind in that list, and you may have to ask your possibly-now-drunk relative which of her cats she named her network after if there are quite a few that her computer has previously joined.

Once you’ve found the correct one, just double-click on the item in question. When its window pops up, you’ll need to click on the “Show Password” checkbox at the bottom.

Then you’ll enter the machine’s login password to prove to Mac OS X that you’re allowed to see its private information. 

Afterward, the “Show Password” box will reveal all of its secrets to you, and you’re golden. Join the network on your iPhone! Join it on your iPad! Join it on your MacBook Air and your Pro! Join a therapy group for not being able to leave any Apple devices at home!

Now you can have Wi-Fi access on all your gear while you’re at someone else’s house. Goodness knows holidays wouldn’t be the same without being able to post videos of your drunk Southern relatives on your YouTube channel. Dad, if you see this, it wasn’t me. OK, it was totally me. But I don’t feel good about it. Mostly.