Mathy Vanhoef: Unmasking a Spoofed MAC Address

Vulnerability Details

When a MAC address is spoofed the driver does not simply update the mainmac register. Instead the mainmac register will still contain the original MAC address, and macmask will contain the bits where the original and spoofed MAC agree (see previous section). The wireless chip will acknowledge frames sent to the spoofed MAC addresses, and the operating system will include the spoofed MAC address in all packets, so everything will seem to work properly. Unfortunately this method allows an attacker to uncover the original MAC address bit by bit (given the spoofed MAC address). Specifically we can determine the value of any bit of the original MAC address as follows:

Flip the bit in the spoofed MAC address and send a packet to the modified MAC address.

We now have two cases:

The device replies with an ACK: This means the mask for this bit is zero, thus the bit in the spoofed MAC address was different than the original MAC address.

Device doesn\’t reply: This means the mask for this bit is one, so the bit we are guessing was identical to the bit in the spoofed MAC

By doing this for each bit, we eventually learn the complete original MAC address.

The vulnerability has been successfully exploited against AR7010 and AR9271 chipsets (which use the ath9k_htc driver) under following operating systems:

Debian 7.2.0 amd64 and i386

Kali 1.0.5 amd64 and i386

Ubuntu 13.10 amd64 and i386

The ath5k, ath9k, and ath10k drivers might also be vulnerable, unfortunately I cannot perform tests against these drivers because I do not have the appropriate hardware. Other drivers also capable of creating multiple virtual interfaces with different MAC addresses, on a single device, might also be susceptible to the same vulnerability (so feel free test your device and post results).


A proof of concept has been implemented in python using scapy. Given a MAC address that you suspect to be spoofed the tool will attempt to uncover the original MAC address. In case the tool returns the same MAC address as you entered, it means the target is not susceptible to the attack, or that the target is using the default MAC address of the device.


We are not yet aware of an official patch (the ath9k-devel mailing list has been notified of this issue).

Final Remarks

Though spoofing a MAC address can be done securely by simply updating mainmac, an attacker can use the same technique to learn that two virtual MAC addresses actually belong to the same user. So if you put up several virtual interfaces (possibly with random MAC addresses) they can be easily linked back together (again, that\’s if your device uses a method similar to the one described above). This flaw is inherent to usage of macmask and, at first sight, seems difficult to fix.

via Mathy Vanhoef: Unmasking a Spoofed MAC Address.

via Mathy Vanhoef: Unmasking a Spoofed MAC Address.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s