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Can someone please explain what Ubuntu's keychain or keyring is, as well as use cases for it?

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The question should be more clear, there is no such thing as the "ubuntu keychain" . –  João Pinto Aug 8 '10 at 22:24
    
That's not true Jo', it's just called Gnome Keyring –  D3L Aug 13 at 6:01

3 Answers 3

The Gnome Keyring is used by Gnome-ish apps to store secrets on your behalf. The secrets are stuff like SSH keys, keys to wifi networks, et cetera.

If you want to poke at your keyring, go to the Accessories menu and run the app called "Passwords and Encryption Keys." It will show your a number of folders on the Password tab - each one of those is called a keyring. Each entry under a folder is a password. Double click on them to see their contents.

The reason a keyring is provided is that applications have to store secrets somewhere. It's easy for programmers to make a mistake and leave secrets around for anyone to read. In theory, the Gnome Keyring should store passwords for everything and do it right.

(You should always exercise a minimum of security - add a password to keyrings that you care about, keep your computer physically safe, etc)

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To clarify on the “doing it right” part, the particular feature it does is one-way encryption, so your passwords under the keyring are all encrypted and the only way to decrypt them is to enter a password. That would be a real pain if you had to do it for every application, but it's really the only way to be sure. Normally the step of unencrypting your keyring happens invisibly in Ubuntu, because the password you enter to log in is the same as your keyring password. –  Dylan McCall Sep 16 '11 at 5:31
    
If you're concerned about any of this, the app Erigami mentions lets you tighten this a little more. You can temporarily lock a keyring or change its password so you always have to unlock it separately at login, for example. You can find those options if you right click a keyring in the Passwords list. –  Dylan McCall Sep 16 '11 at 5:41

Which keychain do you mean?

  • There's the apt keyring, that is used for verifying downloaded packages. This helps to prevent malicious software from being installed via apt.
  • There's your user keyring where good apps store passwords (such as mail passwords, wifi passwords)

And then there's this. Guess what that is good for :)

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I'm glad you brought that distinction on the table; the apt keyring was actually what I was looking for when getting in here. +1 –  Anto Aug 13 at 15:06

A keyring basically stores all your various passwords and allows you to access them with one master password. So instead of having to enter passwords for my wireless, email and ubuntu one accounts separately I just enter one master password to unlock my keyring. Then I have access to all the accounts stored in that keyring.

If you set your keyring password to the same as your login password the keyring will be unlocked when you sign in at boot up.

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