What is a MAC address? Things to Know

What is a MAC Address

There is no doubt that networks are an integral part of computers and data processing. Even the internet is essentially a massive network made up of several smaller networks working together. The fundamental components of any network are the gadgets linked to it, whether they are computers, smartphones, or peripherals such as printers.

However, the issue with networks is that a large number of devices are connected to them. As a result, each connected device requires a unique method of identification to distinguish it from other networks. And that’s why we have MAC addresses.

Everything online has a MAC address. Why?
In many ways, the internet is similar to your normal mail service. There are IP addresses in place of residential addresses and MAC addresses serve as names. Both of these addresses get information delivered to your doorstep (i.e., your device).

This article covers the topic of MAC addresses. We provide comprehensive answers to frequently asked questions like

  • What is a MAC address?
  • How to find a MAC address?
  • What is the difference between MAC addresses and IP addresses, among others?

Without further ado, let’s jump right into it.

 

What Is a MAC Address?

A Media Access Control (MAC) address is a unique identifier for every network-connected device, more like a separate postal address is assigned to each home. It identifies the hardware manufacturer and is used for network communication between devices in a network segment.

Every device has a distinct MAC address. No two devices should share the same MAC address on a local network. If it does occur, both devices will have communication issues because the local network cannot determine which device should receive the message.

To ensure data is transmitted to your computer and not your friend’s smartphone, your local network uses a MAC address to distinguish between different devices. MAC addresses are also used by Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Ethernet connections.

A MAC address comes with a unique component in your device known as a Network Interface Controller (NIC) which enables wireless internet connectivity.
MAC address can also be referred to as the following:

  • Ethernet hardware address (EHA)
  • Burned-in address
  • Networking hardware address
  • Physical address
  • Your device’s manufacturer

Let’s now examine a thorough description of what a MAC address looks like.

 

What Is the Format of a Mac Address?

What is the format of a MAC address

A MAC address of 4B679155f6e3, for instance, can be shown as 4B-67-91-55-f6-e3 or 4B:67:91:55:f6:e3, i.e., in groups of two hexadecimal digits, separated by hyphens, colons, or without a separator.

The MAC Address’s first six digits 4B-67-91 identify the manufacturer, known as OUI (Organizational Unique Identifier). For example, Google’s OUI is 3C:5A:B4.

These MAC prefixes are given to the registered vendors by the IEEE Registration Authority Committee.

On the other hand, the manufacturer assigns the last six digits, and they configure it on the Network Interface Controller (NIC) of their product.

The colon-hexadecimal notation is used to express a MAC address. However, this notation is optional. Any of the following formats may be used to represent a MAC address:

  • Hyphen-hexadecimal Notation. It looks like this: 4B-67-91-55-f6-e3
  • Colon Hexadecimal Notation. This is an example of how it is written: 4B:67:91:55:f6:e3
  • Period-separated Hexadecimal Notation. It looks like this: 4B6.791.55f.6e3

No matter which style you use to write the MAC address, or an application or networking software uses to display the MAC address, a MAC address is always processed in binary numbers only.

Given everything you just learned, your next question is probably how to find out what the MAC address is for your device. In the next section, we discussed how to find MAC addresses for different devices.

 

How Do I Find the Mac Address of My Device?

You can quickly find or verify the MAC address of your computer device on any operating system. Whether it be an Ethernet adapter or a wireless adapter, every network device or NIC on your system has a unique MAC address or physical address.

To determine the MAC addresses of devices running various operating systems, use the techniques detailed below:

 

Category 1: Android Smartphones

Use these methods to find the MAC address of the following Android smartphones:

For Device MAC

  1. Go to Menu > Settings > About Phone/Device from the Home screen.
  2. Select Hardware Information or Status from the menu.
  3. Scroll down to the WiFi address.

Wireless Connection MAC

  1. Tap Menu > Settings > Connections on the Home screen.
  2. Simply tap the WiFi connection name.
  3. To change the network, tap the gear.
  4. Click View More.
  5. Go to MAC Address by scrolling down.

Category 2: Computers

Use these methods to find the MAC addresses of these computers:

For Windows-based device

  1. Click on the Windows key or Window Start. A search box will appear.
  2. Type “cmd” to launch the command prompt. Hit the Enter key.
  3. Then enter “ipconfig/all command” and press the Enter key once again.
  4. A screen containing a lot of information will appear for you. Locate the physical address by scrolling down. That is your MAC address.

For Mac OS systems

  1. Open the Apple Menu and choose System Preferences, or just click the Apple logo.
  2. Select Network from the system preferences. Following the first two steps, the route opens a network box.
  3. Select Advanced
  4. Select Hardware
  5. The MAC address of your device is then displayed.

For Chrome OS

  1. Go to your Chromebook and log in.
  2. Click the time icon (bottom right).
  3. Input Network (left).
  4. Select the network whose MAC address you want to display by clicking it.
  5. A list of MAC addresses will be shown after this prompt.

For Linux

  1. Open a console or terminal window.
  2. Type ‘ifconfig
  3. The MAC address format is provided as HWaddr, which is 12:34:56:78:AB

Category 3: iOS Smartphones

Use these methods to find the MAC address of the following iOS smartphones:

For Device Mac

  1. Tap Settings > General > About on your smartphone.
  2. Scroll down till you get to the Wi-Fi address.

For Wireless Connection MAC

  1. Press the “i” next to your wireless network after selecting Settings > Wi-Fi.
  2. Scroll to Wi-Fi Address.

 

3 Types of MAC address

3 Types of MAC Address

MAC addresses come in three distinct types: Unicast, Multicast, and Broadcast.

1. Multicast MAC address

The multicast address allows the source to send a frame to a group of devices. Using multicast addresses, you can identify a host of addresses. A multicast operates with UDP.
The prefix 01-00-5E is always present in the multicast addresses.

2. Unicast MAC address

A Unicast identifies the unique NIC of your network. The interface is the only thing that is linked to a single NIC. Hence, only one destination device receives a Unicast MAC address frame. A Unicast MAC address is specific hence it will not transmit to every device available on the network.

3. Broadcast MAC address

Broadcast MAC address is an image of each device connected to a network. A broadcast address is used as the destination MAC address if a source device needs to communicate data to every device on a network.

Pro Tip: You can take a glance at the first six values to determine which type of MAC address you are reading. Here are some contrasts to note:

  • The initial byte of a Unicast MAC address will always be even, such as 02, 04, 06, etc.
  • A Multicast MAC address’s first byte is always odd, like 01, 03, 05, etc.
  • The Broadcast MAC address is either all FF hex or all 1s binary.

Every receiving interface will then be able to determine the kind of destination address it is reading after just reading one byte.

 

Can Websites Detect a Mac Address?

Controlling who gets access to your data is one of the top data privacy issues. And it is a justification for why most individuals wonder how to hide their MAC address from others. In this section, we answer the question of whether or not your MAC address can be tracked by third parties. Let’s dive in.

The short answer to this question is No.
Your MAC address does not leave your local network, there is no way for a remote device to get it by listening to your traffic or connecting to your computer. Therefore, your MAC address cannot be obtained by social media platforms, online stores, or gaming and betting portals. No website can identify you by your MAC address.

Your device’s MAC address is only ever used to identify WiFi routers; it never leaves the confines of your private network. You’re secure as long as you’re connected to your router and nobody else has access to it.

However, if you’re using public WiFi in a train station, things could get a little tricky. This is because their system administrator has access to their WiFi router, not you. As a result, they may quickly get your MAC address from your network log.

There have been scenarios where the MAC addresses of customers at cafés and restaurants have been leaked or even voluntarily given to unknown third parties. Malicious agents can also easily access a public network and extract such data from Big Tech, in their quest for data.

Should You Worry About It?

No, you shouldn’t worry too much about your MAC address leaking. A MAC address is insignificant in terms of maintaining your anonymity. So long as you’re connecting to your private network (or router) and not a public WiFi, rest assured no platform can potentially track you via your MAC address.

A MAC address is not even close to being on the list of parameters for identification, thus, you should be more concerned with lists of those parameters. Websites could use a variety of data to identify you, including

  • typefaces,
  • WebRTC,
  • RAM,
  • screen resolution,
  • platform,
  • operating system, and more.

They use these parameters to create unique IDs for your devices via sophisticated techniques like browser fingerprinting. However, there are tools available to prevent these. The solution? Incogniton.

Incogniton fulfills all of your needs when it comes to maintaining your anonymity or managing several accounts from the same device.

Modern websites utilize various metrics and fingerprint configuration settings that they closely monitor, which makes it essential to protect your browser fingerprint instead of a MAC address that has little significance.

Since we’ve answered these pressing issues, let’s look at the differences between MAC and IP addresses.

 

Differences Between Mac Address and IP Address

Differences Between MAC Address and IP Address

If the phrases “IP address” and “MAC address” make your head spin, don’t worry, they’re both quite simple concepts to grasp. Let’s look at the simple definition of an IP address

 

What is an IP Address?

An internet-connected device is identified by a specific collection of digits called an Internet Protocol (IP) address. See our guide for an in-depth understanding of IP addresses.

On the internet, a device is uniquely identified using both its MAC address and its IP address. Both work together to facilitate data exchange between devices on your personal network and the internet.

However, MAC addresses and IP addresses vary from one another in various ways, especially in their roles. The following table highlights these differences, descriptively and functionally.

MAC Addresses  IP Addresses 
  • A MAC address is referred to as Media Access Control Addresses

 

  • A computer’s MAC address is permanent and does not change over time or in different environments. 

 

  • The device (or its NIC Manufacturer) assigns the MAC Address.
  • The MAC Address is the physical address of a computer on a network
  • A MAC address is a 48-bit (i.e 6 bytes) hexadecimal address made up of 6 groups of 2 hexadecimal numbers that are separated by colons (:) or hyphens (-). 
  • The MAC Address facilitates the device’s quick identification on a local network.  
  • An external party to the network  cannot readily access a device’s MAC Address.

 

  • MAC address utilize the  ARP protocol to get information. 
  • Different devices cannot share a single MAC address. 

 

  • MAC addresses are hardware-focused
  • MAC Address exists at the data connection layer of a network 
  • An IP address is referred to as an Internet Protocol Address.
  •  IP addresses change depending on the situation and the time.
  • Internet Service Providers (ISP) assign IP addresses.
  • IP addresses are computers’ logical addresses on a network.  
  • IP addresses are in two different versions: 32-bit or 4 bytes (IPv4) and 128-bit or 16 bytes (IPv6). IPv6 is in the hexadecimal format while IPv4 uses dotted notation. 
  •  IP addresses identify a device across different networks.
  • A third party may be able to access the IP Address of a device.
  • IP addresses obtain information via the RARP protocol. 
  • Multiple devices may share an IP address.
  • IP addresses are software-focused
  • IP Address functions at the network layer.

 

Conclusion

The fact is that an adversary can track your device using your MAC address since it is a reliable, consistent identification. But unlike an IP address, a MAC address is not broadcast from one network to the next, making it almost impossible for websites to track your MAC address.

In any case, you can now locate your MAC address on any device – thanks to your knowledge of what a MAC address is and how it works. The process of finding your MAC address is a straightforward one, regardless of the operating system you use. Just follow the guidelines we discussed in this article, and you’re good to go.