When Aaron Swartz Spoofed His MAC Address, It Proved He Was A Criminal; When Apple Does It, It's Good For Everyone

from the only-the-second-one-is-true dept

Whenever we write about Aaron Swartz and the criminal prosecution against him, some of our (and Aaron's) critics scream that it was "obvious" that he knew he was up to no good, because he chose to spoof his MAC address on the machine he used to download JSTOR articles. Of course, as many people explained, spoofing a MAC address isn't some crazy nefarious thing to do, and often makes a lot of sense. In fact, Apple recently announced that iOS 8 will have randomized MAC addresses to better protect people's privacy. Simply speaking: Apple is making "MAC spoofing" standard. And, as the folks over at EFF are noting, this is a very good thing for your privacy.

As Cory Doctorow points out, this highlights the ridiculousness of MAC spoofing being used as evidence against Swartz, when now it's going to be a standard feature of iPhones and iPads (and, hopefully, other device makers will quickly follow suit).

This, of course, is one of the unfortunate results when you have law enforcement folks who simply don't understand much technology. People who actually understand both privacy and the ways you might approach problems you face on the internet, recognize that things like MAC spoofing are perfectly reasonable to do at times -- but such actions are twisted by law enforcement as being nefarious and dangerous because it makes it easier to "build a case" and because they don't understand how perfectly common such actions are.

Filed Under: aaron swartz, ios, mac address, privacy, spoofing


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jun 2014 @ 5:40pm

    Re: Even with mac spoofing, they can still track you

    Whenever it's not connected to a wifi network, your ios device sends out beacons to every wifi network you've ever connected to -- ie, "Network A, are you out there?" "Network B, are you out there?"


    Does it really do that? If it's like Android (and I'd guess it is), it'll only sends these probe requests if you added the network by its name (that is, it was a "hidden SSID" network) instead of choosing the network from the list of visible networks.

    One more reason to never hide your SSID, by the way.

    If you want to take a look, Wireshark has a mode where it captures raw 802.11 packets. It's very instructive to look at the beacons and probe requests around you. Turn on your phone's wifi while sniffing and you'll see the probe requests.

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