Changing your WiFi adapter's MAC Address: Good or bad idea, and what does it even mean?

January 29, 2020

As a basic disclaimer, generally we do not recommend changing your device’s MAC address. In rare cases it may be necessary, which we will discuss further down.

Changing of a MAC address is a controversial topic. Let’s begin by discussing what a MAC address is. It has nothing to do with Apple computers, it stands for Media Access Control address.

Every networking device has a unique MAC address burned into it at the factory. Address blocks are assigned by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) to manufacturers. Think of it as your networking device’s fingerprint.
So when it comes to changing your device’s MAC address, AKA MAC spoofing, it sounds like a bad thing. If you need to change your fingerprints in order to do something, it probably means you are up to no good.

But it hasn’t been this simple. In the last decade, retailers and media companies, among other network operators, have been logging and tracking MAC addresses to identify who people are and what they are doing. The information is generally not used for nefarious purposes, but privacy advocates are nonetheless right to raise concerns. In fact, with the release of iOS 8, Apple began having iPhones randomly assign MAC addresses to networks to keep connection details private (MAC randomization is different from MAC spoofing though).

But what about changing your own MAC ID by yourself? When would you want to do that? Chances are, not very often. Some campgrounds or other public networks will use MAC address filtering to allow users only a certain number of devices on their network. Cloning a MAC address of an authorized device to several other devices to circumvent this limit in our view is a bad thing because it is a violation of the network operator’s rules. Hence it is like changing your fingerprint to get unauthorized access at a security checkpoint.

But what if a network operator’s firewall wrongly begins blocking an authorized device and they don’t have the personnel resources to address it? We came across such a case recently. A customer had long owned one of our WiFi boosters and one day could no longer get Internet access at his RV park. After some troubleshooting, we determined his MAC address was being blocked by their firewall software as a false positive. He had not done anything wrong, but the network firewall had blocked him. The proper way to regain access was to contact the network administrator, which he tried doing, but most RV parks don’t have those. They tell you “sorry, nobody else is having trouble getting online, we don’t know what to tell you.” So in that case, if you get locked out of your house by accident, is it wrong to go through the window?

This user may want to change his device’s MAC address to get back on the network. His only other option would be to buy a new booster with a different MAC address and hope the false positive didn’t happen again.

With all of this in mind, if you are in a position where you legitimately need to change your MAC address, we recommend a program called Technitium MAC Address Changer v6. There is an instructional on YouTube here. Be sure to write your device’s MAC address down first before making changes, though the program does have a “Restore Original” button which we found in our test cases did properly restore a device’s original MAC address.

Do use at your own risk. Changing the MAC address can have negative consequences, especially if you use the same device on another network that uses MAC address filtering, you might find yourself locked out in that case if you change it. If you think you may need to change the MAC address of a device purchased through Rokland, please contact our support first to go over options. Your issue may be something unrelated to the MAC address. 

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