Finding MAC Addresses: The Talk

In the first part of this three part series, we discussed MAC (Media Access Control) addresses.  We learned that computers are full of address information.  We learned that the MAC address can be thought of as the hardware address of a computer, gaming console, phone or tablet. In fact, just about every device that can communicate on a network has a MAC address.

We learned that a MAC address consists of twelve characters (hexadecimal numbers) from 0 to 9 and A to F. These twelve characters are represented as six pairs. Each pair is traditionally separated by a colon (:) or sometimes a dash (-). The first three pairs tell us who made the device (or at least its network adapter) and the last three pairs represent the device itself.

Just knowing the definition of a MAC address doesn’t do much for most people. The end goal of the series is to be able to use MAC address information to add a little security to a home network. To do so, you need to learn about finding MAC addresses on some common home equipment.

Finding MAC Addresses: The Tech

Here’s where things get a little tricky and we have to make some assumptions.  I can’t specifically lay out how to find MAC addresses for every device that’s ever existed: there are so many devices out there that the entire blog could be devoted just to finding MAC addresses. Second, that would bore me. I mean it would really, really bore me. Instead, I’m going to get you started on a handful of the most common home user devices: game consoles including the 360, PS3, and Wii;  computers running Windows, OS X or some flavor of Linux; and devices running Android, iOS or Windows Phone.

Finding MAC Addresses: Game Consoles

  1. Microsoft XBox 360. From the XBox Dashboard select System, Network Settings, Edit Settings, Additional Settings, Advanced Settings, Wireless Information. You’ll find the 360’s wireless MAC address here.
    You can identify this console by the large “X” on the circular button in the center of the controller.
  2. Nintendo Wii. Browse to your Wii Channel menu, select Wii Settings, Internet, Console Settings. You’ll see the MAC address of the Wii console on the first line of information.
    If your children – or you – make a lot of silly arm motions while holding something that looks like a small remote control in one hand when using the console, it’s probably a Wii.
  3. Sony Playstation 3. From the XMB Home menu, go to Settings, System Settings, System Information to find the MAC address.
    If the console is a PS3, there will more than likely be a “Sony” label on the controller.

Finding MAC Addresses: Computers

  1. Desktops and laptops running Linux. Open up a command prompt and use the ifconfig -a command.
    If you configured any flavor of Linux at home on your own, you probably don’t need help finding MAC addresses.
  2. Desktops and laptops running OS X. For newer versions of OS X, open your Apple menu, System Preferences, Network. Then click Airport in the left listing followed by Advanced in the lower right. The MAC address of the wireless interface will be listed as the WiFi Address. In slightly older versions of OS X (10.5 and 10.6), follow the exact same instructions; the only difference will be that the MAC of the wireless is listed as Airport ID. For very old versions of OS X (10.4 and below), open your Apple Menu, System Preferences, Network. Then select Airport from the Show drop-down menu. The MAC address of the Mac’s wireless connection will be listed as the Airport ID.
    OS X is what your Mac desktop or notebook runs. Since Macs are so intuitive, I bet most Mac users didn’t need to read this section. Just for giggles and enlightenment, you should also try the Linux steps. Seriously.
  3. Desktops and laptops running Windows. For any of the newer versions of Windows (Vista, 7, 8) right click on the wireless connection icon in the system tray (lower right corner of the desktop, near the time). Select Network and Sharing Center and then left click on the active network to view it.  Next, click Details and look for the line labeled “Physical Address”. For older versions of Windows (XP, 2000) double-click on the wireless connection icon mentioned previously. Next, click the Support tab and finally the Details button. Just like in newer versions of Windows, the MAC address is labeled as “Physical Address”.
    There are command line ways to do this for Windows, too. For those interested, open up a DOS prompt and use the ipconfig /all | more command. You can learn a lot about your network here – and we’ll probably see it again in later articles. (That’s a pipe symbol up there between ‘all’ and ‘more’.  You make one with the shift key and the backslash key.  The backslash is the slash that’s not on the ? key – that one is a frontslash. Now you know.)

Finding MAC Addresses: Tablets & Phones

  1. Devices running iOS. This applies to the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Tap Settings, General, About. The MAC address of the device will be labeled as the WiFi address.
    That’s nice and easy, right?
  2. Devices running Android. This applies to most tablets or phones that aren’t running iOS (there are exceptions). Go to the home screen, then tap your Menu key, Settings (or System Settings), About phone (or About tablet), Status. Scroll down, looking for the part labeled Wi-Fi MAC address.
    This one might have slight variations depending on the device. Common sense is a good guide here.
  3. Phones running Windows Phone 8. Go to your Start screen, then flick left to get to your App list. Tap Settings, About, More info.
    If you’re using a Windows 8 phone, I salute you. Way to stick up for the little guy (in that market).

Finding MAC Addresses: The Takeaway

Now that you’ve learned about finding MAC addresses, you can get a good handle on just what devices are in use in your home. As was discussed briefly at the end of the first article of this series, you can use MAC address filtering to choose what devices are allowed to connect to your home network.  It’s not the best form of security, but it’s good enough for the average home user. It also lets you unplug someone at the drop of a hat.

Two articles into the series, you know what a MAC address and how to go about finding MAC addresses on the most common user devices. In the final part of this series, I’ll talk about some ways that you can use what you’ve learned to control connections to your home network.

If you have any questions about finding MAC addresses on devices not listed here or just need clarification on a step or two, feel free to head on over to the Facebook page and ask: I’m always happy to help people learn.