What is the MAC address, how to find and protect it?

Anton P. | July 27, 2020

MAC address, the hard-coded sequence linked to every network adapter, is essential for simultaneous and smooth networking. All gadgets connected to the same network operate with individual combinations. These strings of letters and number values are identifiers that allow routers to recognize devices and connect them to the internet. Similarly to your IP address, MAC addresses can also reveal a lot about you. So, is it necessary to conceal them, or are they private enough?

What is a MAC address?

MAC (Media Access Control) address refers to the 48-bit serial number that differentiates your device from others. As opposed to dynamic IP addresses that change under specific circumstances, MAC addresses are permanent. Manufacturers hardwire them onto the computer’s network interface card (NIC). So, these hardware addresses are exclusive, and vendors assign unique combinations to each gadget released.

However, there have been instances when devices with duplicate MAC identifiers ended up on the market. Vendors might reuse the same combinations and sell such products in different regions. The assumption is that such devices, scattered across the map, are unlikely to connect to the same network.

So, the MAC addresses of devices operating on the same network need to be unique. They guarantee smooth communication between all gadgets, including routers. When attempting to connect to the internet, your device transfers its MAC address to the router. After the identification process is complete, your router assigns the approved device a shared IP address. Hence, MAC addresses identify hardware and are for local use only, while IP addresses pinpoint entire networks globally.

How to find your MAC address?

The instructions for finding these combinations are relatively simple, but different for each operating system. Let’s discuss the route you should take on the most popular environments:

On Android:

  1. Go to “Settings” and select “Network and internet.”
  2. Open the “Wi-Fi” section.

What is the MAC address, how to find and protect it? 1

  1. You should see your MAC address under “Additional settings.”

On iOS:

  1. Go to “Settings” and pick “General.”

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  1. Choose “About.” You should see your MAC address as the Wi-Fi address.

On Windows:

  1. Click on the Windows logo at the bottom left corner of your screen.
  2. Type “cmd” in the search bar and press “Enter” on your keyboard.

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  1. Once the command prompt window appears, type “ipconfig/all” and press “Enter” again.
  2. You will see the MAC address next to each network adapter.

On macOS:

  1. Click on the Wi-Fi icon at the top right corner of your screen.
  2. Select “Open Network Preferences.”

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  1. Choose “Advanced” and find the “Hardware” tab.

Can your MAC address be valuable to hackers?

Networks reserve the use of MAC addresses on the local level exclusively. However, sophisticated and far-reaching attacks might retrieve them. Exposed addresses can serve as tracking instruments, or be the tools for conducting even more devastating cyber raids. However, these combinations are seldom used for any form of authentication as they are inherently weaker than industry-standard practices.

  • While it is more difficult to snatch your MAC address than the IP address, it is possible. Some large enterprises, governments, and organizations might create environments to make this possible. For instance, free Wi-Fi spots at various social gatherings tempt people to connect to them. As a result, you share your MAC address with whoever controls the network. This information can be the tool used to track people’s locations and their movements.
  • When packets travel from point A to point B, they will include the MAC address of your router, not individual devices. In some cases, leaked addresses can be useful to hackers when they need to falsify it to access services.
  • Peer-to-peer networking can leak a significant amount of information about you. Besides your IP address, the file-sharing systems can expose MAC addresses of your router as well. However, it is unlikely that this data will have the power to facilitate other attacks.

How to protect your MAC address?

  • MAC address spoofing is a practice used to alter the hard-coded sequences. Originally, such factory-assigned combinations had to be permanent, immune to change. Over time, people found ways to replace these burned-in addresses with meaningless sequences that do not relate to actual devices. However, this change might disrupt some regular processes. For instance, your router might no longer recognize your device and refuse to connect it to the internet.
  • A better solution is to perform MAC randomization, which allows your devices to go through random hardware addresses instead of keeping the factory-assigned one. Apple and popular Android vendors implement this technique in their products, but you might need to enable it manually.
  • As a general rule, you should avoid connecting to unknown wireless networks. Enterprises might take advantage of your MAC address to keep track of your movements. While Wi-Fi spots are not inherently dangerous, they might become vulnerable if network managers do not secure them properly. If the data moves from one destination to another without any form of encryption, the network becomes unsecured. If you need to connect to an unknown Wi-Fi spot, a VPN will encrypt all data movements and prevent hackers from stealing and misusing it.
Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.



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