IT Networks
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Randomized and Changing MAC (RCM)

Historically wireless clients associate to the wireless network using the manufacturer assigned mac address that is associated with the wireless network interface card (NIC). This manufacturer-assigned mac address, which is globally unique, is also known as burn-in address (BIA). Use of this burn-in address everywhere raises the question of end-user privacy as the end-user can be tracked with WIFI’s mac address. In this document, this will be referred to as normal mac (address), in contrast to the random mac (address).

To improve end-user privacy, various operating system vendors (Apple iOS 14, Android 10 and Windows 10) are enabling the use of the locally administered mac address (LAA), also referred to as the random mac address for WIFI operation. When wireless endpoint is associated with random mac address, the MAC address of the endpoint changes over time.

The random mac address was limited to probe for known wireless networks. This is now expanded to association to the wireless networks. While this works well for the privacy of the end-user, it brings unique challenges to the Enterprise IT admin, who has been depending so far on the unique endpoint identity as the basis for driving policies. This will also affect different WIFI deployment models e.g., Guest, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and location analytics, etc. which rely on the uniqueness of the mac address.

To address and alleviate the issues due to the usage of random MAC addresses in the existing wireless deployments, Cisco provides an RCM solution.

Random Mac Identification and Client access
Cisco solution Identifies the random mac usage and provides visibility for easy detection of issues and troubleshooting on WLC and Cisco DNA Center.

Cisco Catalyst 9800 can classify the device on the network using its Universally administered address (BIA) or Locally administered address (RCM) which helps administrators to distinguish between both mac addresses. Random MAC address is identified by a bit which gets set in the OUI portion of a MAC address to signify a locally administered address. The below picture depicts how to identify the locally administered mac address.

In addition, Cisco 9800 wireless controller also provides the ability to control the client joining WIFI Network using RCM address. This is enabled through a configuration option to allow/deny RCM clients. When this configuration is enabled, then any client using the randomized changing MAC RCM (Locally administered MAC address) will not be able to join that wireless network.

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